In the debate inside Republican circles over immigration reform, there is no hotter topic than whether the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country should be legalized before enhanced border security and interior enforcement measures take place, or whether legalization should occur only after security enhancements are in place.

The Gang of Eight bill is based on a legalization-first structure, and on Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio, the de facto Republican leader of the Gang of Eight, strongly endorsed granting legal status to illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements, before doing anything else.

“Let’s provide certainty for these folks so they can get legalized and begin to work,” Rubio said in an interview on the Catholic network EWTN, “and let’s not condition that on anything but them having to pass a background check — we all agree we don’t want dangerous criminals here — they have to pay a fine because there has to be consequences for wrong-doing, and they have to get in line behind the people who have done it the right way because we don’t want to punish those who have done it the right way. But they will get their legal status.”

Rubio, who has said his bill needs stronger enforcement measures before it can pass the Senate, told host Raymond Arroyo that, “As a policy maker, I have an obligation to the United States of America as well to ensure that it’s safe and secure. And so what I’m saying is, let’s do both.” First comes legalization, and then, he continued, “On the border side however, we have a national security obligation to this country to ensure that we secure our borders for our own sovereignty, for our own security, and to ensure that there isn’t another wave of illegal immigration in the future. And I think we can balance and achieve both of these things, and I think that the final product is something that the bishops will be able to support.”

Asked how much of his position is rooted in his faith, Rubio answered, “Let me tell you, it is all rooted to some respect in my faith, and also in my personal knowledge of this issue.”