Marco Rubio: A leader on immigration reform?

With the presidential election season in full swing, FileRight will be periodically reviewing the candidates for their stances on immigration. Today we begin this series with a spotlight on the Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.

A political star from a family of immigrants

Marco Rubio, 44, grew up in an immigrant family in South Florida. His parents left Cuba and immigrated to the United States in 1956 and raised Rubio and his three siblings. Both his parents, both blue collar workers, worked hard to raise their children in their adopted country.

Rubio often brings up his family’s immigrant past.

As he says on this Senate bio page:

“The reason I’m so passionate about restoring the American Dream is because I’ve lived it myself. My parents came to America from Cuba in 1956 and earned their way to the middle class working humble jobs—my father as a bartender in hotels and my mom as a maid, cashier and retail clerk. By their loving and powerful example, I learned the importance of work and family, and developed the belief that all things are possible in America.”

Rubio himself has risen the political ranks very quickly:

  • 1988: West Miami City Commissioner
  • 2000: Florida House of Representatives
  • 2007: Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
  • 2011: U.S. Senator

As an homage to his immigrant and Cuban roots, he announced his presidential campaign in April at the Freedom Tower in Miami, through which hundreds of thousands of Cuban immigrants entered the United States in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A leader for immigration reform … who’s been forced to scale it back

Marco Rubio has been a leader on the cause for immigration reform.

Rubio was part of the Gang of Eight Senators that passed the comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the Senate in 2013. He said at the time:

“If we don’t deal with this problem, and particularly with the border security but also identifying these people that are living in our country and start getting them to pay taxes and consequences for having violated our laws, we’re going to leave in place a disaster, a de facto amnesty disaster.”

But ever since the Senate’s bill later stalled in the House of Representatives due to objections and resistance from conservative Republicans, Rubio’s support for the Senate bill he helped author and lead has withered, especially as he’s ramped up his presidential ambitions.

He has disappointed immigration advocates by recently saying that immigration policy should first focus on securing the nation’s borders before moving to comprehensively fix the immigration system.

He has also opposed President Obama’s executive orders for undocumented immigrants.

Looking back, Rubio questioned the wisdom of trying to push through a big, comprehensive bill on such an important issue like immigration.

“I still believe we need to do immigration reform,” Rubio said on a recent Fox News Sunday. “The problem is we can’t do it in one big piece of legislation—the votes aren’t there. The first thing we are going to do is prove to the American people that future illegal immigration is under control.”

He writes in his new book that immigration reform should be approached in a “piecemeal” fashion.

Looking forward to 2016: The Latino Vote

Immigrant voters, especially Latinos, will likely play an important role in the 2016 election. The Latino constituency provides crucial votes in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Republican strategists view increasing the party’s reach to the Latino population as vital for the success of the Republican party. And many of these voters see immigration reform as a “gateway” topic when assessing candidates.

But to win the Republican nomination, Rubio will also have to win over the conservative members of the party, and the Tea Partiers—who have for the most part opposed any comprehensive immigration reform.

It takes a fine balance to win over both diametrically opposed constituencies. Many immigration advocates hope that, whatever positions Rubio ultimately stakes out in the coming months, his support for immigration reform isn’t watered down into unrecognizable pieces.

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