Rubio blasted critics, calling the phone reports "false and reckless." In a post on his Senate website, he explained that the phones will go to U.S. citizens near the border to report violence to police and federal agents.
"It's not some effort to provide phone service to anybody," Rubio said in an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.
The controversy indicates that Rubio and the three other Republican members of the bipartisan group that authored the proposal will be under immense pressure to strengthen, not weaken, the citizenship requirements.
Under the proposed bill, undocumented immigrants would have to wait 10 years for a chance at permanent legal residency and three more for citizenship. They would have to pay at least $2,000 in fines, along with hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. And they would be required to learn English, pass criminal-background checks and prove they have lived continuously in the United States and have been employed regularly during that time.
Furthermore, the immigrants must have come to the country before Dec. 31, 2011. Advocates said hundreds of thousands of people who entered the United States in 2012 and 2013 would immediately be ruled ineligible under the Senate's proposal, meaning those immigrants would continue living in the shadows of society.
Gustavo Torres, executive director of the group CASA of Maryland, said an estimated 400,000 people would be "immediately undocumented as soon as President Obama signs the bill." He added, "This is very problematic for our people and our community."
In 1986, the last time the nation's immigration laws were thoroughly rewritten, an estimated 2.9 million undocumented immigrants were moved to legal status and eventually citizenship, but about the same number were excluded, advocates said.
"Obviously, there are many ways to frustrate and deny citizenship. Cost is one; the length of time to achieve it is another," said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, which supports a path to citizenship. "We need to make sure, first of all, that this bill now delivers on the fundamental promise of actually making citizenship available to everyone."