Lately Marco Rubio has been busy laying out the Republican Party’s framework for immigration reform to anyone who will listen. “We’re for legal immigration and for enforcing our laws,” the U.S. Senator from Florida explained to Telemundo.
The GOP spokesman on the issue favors an approach that “is not unfair to the people that are trying to come here legally.” Under his plan, the undocumented will be able to apply for citizenship “eventually.”
It’s good news that Cuban-American Rubio is accepting his party’s leadership role on immigration. Or is it? The idea that we need increased border security and enforcement ignores reality. His timetable for citizenship for the undocumented is problematic. And there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of his conversion from immigration hardliner to immigration reformer.
It’s true that Rubio’s immigration plan is not too different from ideas proposed by President Obama. Both include employment verification mechanisms, a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for the undocumented that includes paying fines and back taxes, if owed.
But Rubio also believes we need more border security and enforcement measures. Not so, suggests the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. It notes that the U.S. spends roughly $18 billion on federal immigration enforcement, more than it spends on all other law enforcement efforts combined. Nearly all of the border security benchmarks set by Republicans during the 2007 immigration debate have been surpassed.
Meanwhile, 2012 saw record level of deportations, even as the Pew Center reports that illegal immigration has fallen to “net zero.”
Rubio should also stop insisting that we need to enforce our immigration laws because we are enforcing our immigration laws.
He told the New York Times that a “significant but reasonable” amount of time to legalize their status. Then, he said, they must go “to the back of the line” before they can apply for citizenship.
The problem is that Mexican nationals often wait between 15 and 20 years to receive a green card. Under Rubio’s plan, undocumented immigrants would have to get in line behind them, and could wait decades for citizenship.
When the Times questioned Rubio about this inordinately long waiting period, he replied, “I do not have a solution for that question right now.”
If he doesn’t have an answer to that question, it is premature for him to be floating his proposal. Not having critical details worked out renders any immigration plan incomplete.
Rubio’s recent interview with the Wall Street Journal was headlined “Marco Rubio: Riding to the Immigration Rescue.” Yet he may find his ideas a tough sell among Republicans and Latinos alike. Just three months ago, he was campaigning in Florida with Mitt “Self-Deportation” Romney. Rubio was against the original Dream Act and a supporter of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh immigration law.
Now his Tea Party base and Hispanics are supposed to welcome his new position on immigration? Not too likely. Instead, people may realize that Marco Rubio’s only core conviction is Marco Rubio.
We don’t know the details of Rubio’s immigration proposal because he hasn’t offered any. If he isn’t careful, he risks a repeat of his Dream Act debacle. For two months Rubio publicly promoted his incomplete version of the Dream Act, but never wrote anything down. When President Obama introduced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan, Rubio’s words became moot.
This time around, he needs to put something into action. If he takes a break from his media whirlwind long enough to write legislation, he may have a viable proposal. His challenge is to prove that his views are about opportunity – not opportunism.
Raúl A. Reyes practices law in New York City. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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