Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a congressional leader on immigration reform and long considered a likely 2016 presidential candidate, criticized President Obama for “poison[ing] the well” on the reform effort in a wide-ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Speaking of Obama’s policy shift, launched just months before Election Day, to stop the deportation of young illegal immigrants and start issuing them work permits, Rubio told the newspaper that Obama “may have even set back the cause a bit.”
“He’s poisoned the well for people willing to take on this issue,” he said.
Rubio also expressed skepticism that the president would pursue the issue in his second term, despite the president’s frequent proclamations that immigration reform is one of his top priorities for the next four years. Indeed, some Democrats have expressed concern that other issues, including gun control and the federal budget, could delay work on reform.
Rubio, however, suggested Obama’s inaction may be purely political; that the president, coming out of an election in which Hispanic voters overwhelmingly broke for Obama, will see it as politically expedient to delay work on immigration reform to retain it as a winning issue for Democrats.
Twelve-and-a-half million Latinos voted in 2012, 1.8 million more than in 2008, and Obama received the support of more than 70 percent of them this year, according to exit polling.
And a Pew Project report projects that Hispanic voters will account for 40 percent of the growth in the U.S. electorate between now and 2030.
Rubio said that while immigration reform wouldn’t solve all the GOP’s woes with respect to Hispanic voters, “the immigration issue is a gateway issue for Hispanics.”
“No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don’t like them or want them here, it’s difficult to get them to listen to anything else,” he said.
He charged that “the rhetoric by a handful of voices in the minority, but loud nonetheless” has given the Democratic Party the opportunity to “create an unfair perception” surrounding the GOP’s stance on immigration.
His comments follow an election marked by heated rhetoric surrounding illegal immigration, with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney at one point suggesting the solution to the nation’s immigration problem include “self-deportation.”
Republicans feel the way Rubio does, that the GOP needs to tackle immigration reform to be able to speak to Hispanic voters about other issues. And Rubio is taking a lead on the effort, proposing a blueprint for reform in his interview with The Wall Street Journal.
He struck a middle path in the interview, suggesting solutions that will appease some, but not all, on both sides of the aisle.
His most controversial position comes on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Rubio believes that there should be a staged process to pursue citizenship; that undocumented immigrants should come forward and go through a process to receive legal status, but should also be able to ultimately achieve citizenship.
“They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check…They would be fingerprinted…They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they’ve been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country,” he said.
“They’d get behind everybody who came before them” in line for citizenship, Rubio adds, but he does believe they should be able to achieve citizenship someday. He also suggested the process should be expedited for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.
Rubio suggested that the U.S. needs to “move toward merit and skill-based immigration,” and raise the cap on skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants.
He also stressed the need to revamp the guest-worker system to make sure that the number and type of guest worker visas is sufficient to fulfill the demand in the nation’s farms. But he added that some sort of technological solution, along the lines of the E-Verify system that checks immigration documents, to ensure that those farm workers are following the law.
It seems that Rubio is already going through the planning stages of the reform push; he also suggested the means of getting legislation passed through Congress: Four or five comprehensive bills, rather than one large omnibus, the latter of which has been used to pass health care reform and rankled some Republicans.
But with other politically difficult issues looming, it may be some time before Rubio’s proposal hits the floor.
Read more at THE HILL.