Senator Marco Rubio may have a toned down version of the DREAM Act he hopes to sell to both his own party and Latino voters, but he is not holding back when it comes to talking about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Even if his party doesn’t have a solution for undocumented immigrants, he said, the least they can do is not paint them as evil-doers.
“It does matter how you talk about the issue,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN’s Candy Crowley in an interview that aired Sunday morning, before launching into a speech about migrant workers in Florida. “It starts by recognizing that the vast majority of people who are in this country illegally didn’t come here to steal from the American government.”
As a Cuban-American and rising star in the GOP, the freshman senator has taken on — or had foisted upon him — the role of liaison between the Republican Party and the Hispanic community. With polls showing Hispanic voters backing President Obama 67 percent to 27 percent, that’s a tough needle to thread. While Congressional Republicans have forcefully blocked a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Rubio has a compromise: Even without a policy solution, you can still talk about them compassionately. The problem, according to Rubio, is in the messaging.
Without explicitly calling out his own party, Rubio was clear that at the very least, politicians should speak more compassionately about immigration. “You have to have immigration laws and they have to be enforced,” Rubio said. “That doesn’t mean that because you support the laws that you don’t recognize the humanitarian aspects of the immigration problem.”
From here, Rubio described the plight of one so-called “Dreamer” from his home state.
We have a case here in Florida of a young woman who came when she was 4 years old. Here name is Daniela Pelaez. She’s the valedictorian of her high school this year. She has a 6.8 GPA. She has been admitted to Dartmouth as a — to study molecular biology. And she has a deportation order. And the vast majority of Americans would tell you it just doesn’t feel right to deport a valedictorian who is here in an undocumented status through no fault of her own.
In addition, Rubio encouraged his party to put a more positive spin on their own immigration preferences. “Here’s been my suggestion,” Rubio said. “Other than only just talking about what we’re against, you have to talk about what you’re for. And what I have said consistently is that the Republican Party is and must become and continue to be the pro-legal immigration party. We have to make very clear we support legal immigration.” To which Crowley responded: “I think everybody supports legal immigration.”
Conversely, Rubio, who is in the process of authoring a watered down version of the DREAM Act, sounds a lot more harsh when trying to explain that his own bill is in sync with what Mitt Romney and other Republicans are saying.
Trying to reconcile his bill with Romney’s position on the campaign trail that he would veto the DREAM Act, Rubio tried to explain why his DREAM Act — which would grant temporary legal residency to some undocumented with no guarantee of eventual citizenship — wasn’t at odds with his party’s presumptive nominee. Perhaps that’s an impossible task since his own bill seems to do what Romney explicitly opposed by letting Dreamers stay in the country for a while at least. “They wouldn’t be getting any preferential treatment,” Rubio said, on attaining citizenship.
In other words, they’d be given legal status and eventually have to apply for permanent residency through the regular channels, an often lengthy process with no guarantee of a favorable outcome. “They could renew [the visas],” Rubio said, “but that’s — you can never turn that into residency and then citizenship.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.