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Rubio: The new DREAM Act is about humanitarian relief, not immigration reform

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Thursday offered up a new explanation for his version of the DREAM Act, casting it less as immigration reform than humanitarian relief for a specific group of young people who face deportation.

He described their cases as similar to those of Cuban refugees who are allowed to come to the United States and stay, jumping in line in front of other possible immigrants because the U.S. has made an exception in light of the political circumstances in Cuba.

"This is for a very specific case of people," said Rubio, speaking in Washington D.C. to a group of business people from Des Moines. Rubio was there at the invitation of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who frequently invites fellow senators to speak to the gathering.

Rubio, who recently has previewed pieces of his proposal, didn't address immigration directly until he was asked questions after his speech. And even then, while he was critical of the country's existing immigration system, he had to be pressed to talk about his own alternative to the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act -- supported by many Democrats and President Obama and stalled in Congress -- allows young people who came to the U.S. illegally with their parents as children to stay in this country. Rubio's proposal would not provide a direct path to citizenship for those young people, who would nontheless be allowed to stay in the country under his proposal. They would still have to apply for residency and citizenship, though.

Rubio also suggested that he's not interested in tackling comprehensive immigration reform. That allows bad ideas in with the good, he said. Instead, Rubio said, Congress needs to address the DREAM Act kids and other specific immigration problems, such as creating a guest worker program and a way for employers to verify the immigration status of potential hires.

Rubio was highly critical of specific provisions of the existing DREAM Act. The direct path to citizenship allows young people to become U.S. citizens and then sponsor family members for citizenship. Rubio said he's concerned some of those the young people could sponsor would be their parents -- the very people who brought their children to the U.S. illegally. He said it would allow up to 3 million people to become U.S. citizens -- although it's unclear where that figure came from.