A day after sending a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy warning against a “rush to legislate” on comprehensive immigration reform, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has released an Easter-morning statement calling reports of a Gang of Eight reform agreement “premature.”  More pointedly, Rubio again calls for an extended deliberative process — not a fast-track dash — as the Senate considers the Gang’s reform proposal.

“We have made substantial progress,” Rubio says, “and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal that modernizes our legal immigration system, improves border security and enforcement and allows those here illegally to earn the chance to one day apply for permanent residency contingent upon certain triggers being met. However, that legislation will only be a starting point.”

Once the Gang of Eight bill is introduced, Rubio says, “We will need a healthy public debate that includes committee hearings and the opportunity for other senators to improve our legislation with their own amendments.”  The freshman senator from Florida points out that the Gang is made up of just eight lawmakers from seven states (two members, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, are both from Arizona) but that passing immigration reform will require the bill “to be properly submitted for the American people’s consideration, through the other 92 senators from 43 states that weren’t part of this initial drafting process.”

“In order to succeed,” Rubio concludes, “this process cannot be rushed or done in secret.”

Rubio’s last sentence, especially the “cannot be rushed” reference, appears to be a direct response to Leahy’s desire for the Judiciary Committee to pass the Gang of Eight bill without any more hearings.  Recently six Republican members of the committee wrote a letter to Leahy protesting plans for an immigration rush, and Leahy responded with a sharply-worded letter arguing that the committee had already had enough hearings, dating back to 2006, on immigration reform.  Rubio’s very public position — even though he is not a member of the Judiciary Committee — is likely to be a substantial boost for the Republicans arguing in favor of new hearings and extensive debate.