Published: April 26, 2012
MIAMI — When Senator Marco Rubio first floated his compromise version of the Dream Act — the bill, now stalled, that would grant some students in the United States illegally a path to citizenship — the chances of reviving the politically charged issue in Congress seemed as dim as the chances of snuffing out attack ads on the campaign trail.
Senator Marco Rubio said of his bill for students in the country illegally, “I have not been discouraged by anybody in my party.”
On Thursday, Speaker John A. Boehner said as much, calling it “difficult at best” to take up the issue in the House, where Republicans are pushing for greater border security, not more forgiving laws. But Mr. Boehner did not close the door, saying “there is always hope” and adding that Mr. Rubio had spoken to him about his proposal.
“I found it of interest,” Mr. Boehner said. “But the problem with this issue is that we are operating in a very hostile political environment.”
Recognizing that his proposal was never going to be an easy sell for either Republicans or Democrats, Mr. Rubio said in an interview this week that he was moving forward with his plan to give students a chance to study and work here legally, albeit temporarily. The senator said he and his staff had been speaking with Democrats, conservative Republicans in and out of Congress, immigration advocates and the students themselves.
The plan seeks to assuage concerns on all sides, Mr. Rubio added; it cannot serve as a lure to illegal immigrants but must offer eligible students genuine relief.
“I don’t want to be unrealistically optimistic about it,” he said, but added, “I have not been discouraged by anybody in my party.”
The compromise would grant students who are the children of illegal immigrants a new kind of nonimmigrant visa that would let them live in this country legally for a period of time. They could work, drive and pay taxes. He would also grant nonimmigrant visas to the graduates of colleges and trade schools, enabling them to stay here and work.
The proposal would not grant them green cards, giving them permanent residency, which sets it apart from the original Dream Act. With their nonimmigrant visas, they could seek green cards in the traditional way, either through marriage, family or an employer. But they could remain in this country legally during that process.
Left with few options, many students and activists said that they were open to Mr. Rubio’s compromise but that they would wait to see the complete bill.
Gaby Pacheco, an immigrant activist for United We Dream, who recently met with Senator Rubio, said the students were tired of waiting for Congress and wanted to break the logjam. She said Mr. Rubio was taking a serious approach to the problem.
“We need a starting point,” she said “Right now with the way the country is so polarized and anti-immigrant, if a Republican starts talking about it and is able to bring his party into the dialogue, we need to listen to that and give them the opportunity.”
Mr. Rubio said that he was still working on the details and that he hoped to introduce a bill once he had lined up enough support.
The Dream Act passed the House in 2010 but failed in the Senate. Last year, Senator Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who sponsored the bill, modified it to address some Republican concerns, but it has not attracted much party support.
Most Republicans view the bill as a form of “amnesty” to people who have broken the law and as a lure to undocumented immigrants.
Mr. Rubio, a potential vice-presidential contender and a Florida Cuban-American, said he was working to garner support from fellow conservatives. The issue is important to many Hispanics in the country, a group of swing voters that has largely decried Mitt Romney’s position on how to handle illegal immigrants.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we are going to have very significant support among Republicans,” Mr. Rubio said.
Senator Durbin has expressed a willingness to consider the senator’s proposal. Most Democrats said they were waiting to see the details and whether Republicans would back the plan.
Cheryl Little, a prominent immigration advocate and lawyer in Miami, said she was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Rubio called her a few weeks ago to seek her opinion.
Ms. Little would prefer something permanent for the dreamers, and not a succession of temporary visas, but she said Mr. Rubio was the lone Republican in Congress trying to address the issue.
“It’s hard to believe they will budge,” she said of Republicans, given the election year. “But we are pushing everybody we can to try to do something to move this forward. I don’t care if it’s a Republican, a Democrat or an independent. If they have a good idea, and it’s got legs, we are going to support it.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Little and other activists are pressuring President Obama to expand a discretionary provision already granted to the Department of Homeland Security that delays deportation of these students and allows them to work. That permission is currently given on a case by case basis.
“The administration should do what they have the authority to do, and do so now,” Ms. Little said.
A White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly said President Obama “is using all the administrative tools he has” and that he supported the Dream Act.
But the official added, “There is no magic wand. This requires action by Congress.”
Senator Rubio shrugged off criticism that his plan is a political ploy to attract Hispanics and not a serious legislative effort to help students here illegally.
“Taking something like this on politically has just as many pitfalls as it has advantages,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 27, 2012, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: With G.O.P.’s Ear, Rubio Pushes Dream Act Proposal