Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday defended his emerging version of a scaled-back Dream Act to help the children of illegal immigrants earn legal status, saying it is not a form of amnesty and would use the existing immigration system to address a "humanitarian issue."

"We don't create any special pathways," the Florida Republican senator, who is considered a strong contender to be Mitt Romney's running mate, said      on  "Fox News Sunday."

Rubio's nascent proposal would allow the children of undocumented residents to obtain visas if they are attending college or serving in the military, and then apply for permanent residency through the normal process after that. The original version of the Dream Act, which many Republicans opposed, would have created a special path to permanent residency and even citizenship.

Rubio's plan has received a mixed response from GOP leaders. Romney himself has indicated a willingness to consider it, though has not openly embraced it.

Asked about Romney's potential reluctance to give Rubio's plan a public bear hug, Rubio said it would be "impossible" for anybody to take a firm stance on it, since the bill has not yet been filed.

"We still don't have a piece of legislation with the details in it," Rubio said.

Rubio's emerging plan is seen in some circles as a lifeline to Romney, who took tough anti-illegal immigration positions during the GOP primary battle, and one that could help him win back Hispanic voters.

Rubio pushed back on that idea, saying it's "wrong" to suggest Hispanic voters are in favor of illegal immigration. If anything, he said, Hispanics have been hurt by the economic policies of President Obama.

Obama's record, he said, "is not a record of upward mobility."

As for his Dream Act-style plan, Rubio insisted it would work within the existing immigration system while expressing empathy for the children of illegal immigrants whom it is meant to help.

"Their parents put them in this predicament," he said.