Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s push for a Republican version of immigration legislation looks like the answer to the election-year prayers of the GOP — and Mitt Romney.

Rubio — telegenic son of Cuban exiles and potential vice presidential pick — is pulling together a bill that would allow young illegal immigrants to remain in the United States but denies them citizenship, an initial step in the drawn-out, divisive fight over immigration policy and the fate of the 11 million people here illegally.

The freshman senator calls his evolving legislation a conservative alternative to the DREAM Act — the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors measure. That Democratic-backed bill, which is overwhelmingly popular with Hispanics, would provide a pathway to citizenship to children in the United States illegally if they attend college or join the military. The measure came close to passage in December 2010 but has languished since then.

“We have to come up with an immigration system that honors both our legacy as a nation of laws and also our legacy as a nation of immigrants,” Rubio told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

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