Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled Tuesday that Rubio's effort has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, telling reporters that he won't accept an alternative that stops short of providing a path to citizenship.
Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said if it's Rubio's bill or nothing, "I think we would have to look pretty hard at the offer because the most important thing for these students, at least initially, is for them to get right with the law and get on with their lives." But Wilkes cautioned against creating an apartheid-like system in the United States with a permanent group of second-class individuals.
President Barack Obama challenged the GOP for opposing changes to immigration while Rubio works on an alternative.
"Somehow Republicans want to have it both ways. That looks like hypocrisy to me," the president said in an interview last week with Telemundo News.
Rubio faces a major obstacle in pushing his measure. The Republican Party and its allies remain fiercely divided over immigration policy, a split even more pronounced in an election year.
Moderates who favor a route to citizenship are pitted against lawmakers who want tough laws cracking down on illegal immigrants. The agriculture industry, which relies heavily on illegal immigrants, and its GOP backers in Congress have challenged Republican legislation in the House requiring employers to use an electronic database to determine whether a new worker is legal, commonly known as e-verify. Businesses fear it will be an unnecessary regulation while tea partyers worry about government intrusion.
Opponents of Rubio's work-in-progress already have appealed to their rank-and-file members to contact the senator and express their opposition.
Numbers USA, which wants to reduce the number of legal and illegal immigrants, provided talking points to their nearly 1 million members.
"It is downright appalling that you are working on a DREAM Act amnesty. There is no difference between giving illegal aliens citizenship and giving them an amnesty. They would still be able to compete against unemployed Americans for jobs! You need to drop this plan presto!" the group said.
Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, said the bill was "just a slower motion amnesty than the DREAM Act that was defeated in December 2010."
"For the pro-amnesty, open borders crowd, the DREAM (Act) is their most compelling case," Beck said in an interview. "So what you've got is some Republicans who feel like somehow they'd like to take that off the table. And frankly if Rubio were to put one of these things other there, and then it's the Democrats that kill it, it could potentially hurt the Democrats."
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who has led the fight for the DREAM Act for the past decade, said Republicans once backed his measure.
"It's really sad," the Illinois senator said. "When I first offered the DREAM Act, we had more than a dozen Republicans support it. In fact, it was a bill I co-sponsored with Sen. (Orrin) Hatch, but it has become so political over the years."
Associated Press writer Charles Babington and AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington and Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami contributed to this report.
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