Senator Marco Rubio said Tuesday he would submit an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill under debate in the U.S. Senate that would require immigrants learn English before obtaining a greencard.
Under current law, immigrants must show proficiency in order to get citizenship, but not permanent residency. The Senate bill only requires immigrants to show that they are taking an English course that meets standards set by the Department of Education to qualify for a greencard -- a practice Rubio’s office referred to as a “loophole.”
“You cannot flourish in our economy, you cannot flourish in our country if you’re not proficient in English,” Rubio said Tuesday before the Senate. “And we’re going to require that at the green card stage.”
The move did not go over well with many immigrant advocates.
"This is going to keep millions of people from getting on a path to citizenship," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice, told Yahoo! News. "The Senate bill is carefully negotiated … When you start to mess around with the core elements of it you're messing around with the whole compromise."
Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo pointed out that toughening the language requirement for a green card might have a major impact in the city of Miami, where Rubio lives.
But opponents of immigration reform on the conservative end of the spectrum routinely point to lack of English proficiency as one of the problems caused by mass immigration. A controversial group called Pro-English has attacked immigration reform in a series of ads.
The Cuban-American senator became the first Hispanic to deliver the rebuttal to the state of the union speech in February. He delivered the speech in both English and Spanish.
Watch Marco Rubio's full speech before the U.S. Senate below.