The junior Senator from Florida Marco Rubio is marking a very quick rise in the polls and at least for now seems to be the establishment’s favorite candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination. Thursday afternoon Rubio declared that “people will have to be deported” before Congress can move forward on immigration reform. Rubio has swung wildly between supporting a permanent fix to bring the country’s 11.2 million undocumented immigrants into the formal American society and berating so-called DREAMERS, or undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
Speaking Thursday afternoon on Fox News, Rubio was trying to walk the tightrope between those who favor strong immigration reform and the Pathway to Citizenship. It is a risky move for someone rising so quickly in the polls.
“We are going to have to deport some people, otherwise if you’re not going to enforce the law, what’s the point of having those laws?,” Rubio said on Fox’s “America’s Newsroom.” “Criminals are going to be deported. People who haven’t been here very long are going to be deported. People overstaying visas are going to have to be deported. That’s how you enforce immigration laws.”
Still, Rubio criticized those who advocate deporting all of those in the country illegally, saying it’s not possible.
“The flipside of it is, I do not believe you can round up and deport 11 million people, especially people who have been here 15 years, have not otherwise violated the law, can pass background checks and so forth,” he said. “There’s got to be a process to deal with that realistically.” In 2013,
Rubio worked on the “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill, but he walked away as it became politically problematic, declaring the bill didn’t do enough for border security and that Democrats couldn’t be trusted on the issue.
Yet, because of his work on the 2013 immigration reform effort, Rubio is more familiar with the nuances of the immigration debate than some of his rivals. When asked about Cruz’s critique while campaigning Thursday in South Carolina, Rubio sought to turn the tables, highlighting the Texas senator’s support of allowing more visas to bring foreign professionals with college degrees and specialized skills into the country.
Rubio’s record includes helping draft and push through a 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, and fellow candidate and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn’t letting him forget it.
“My reaction in all of politics is talk is cheap,” Cruz said of Rubio Thursday on Laura Ingraham’s national radio show. “That you know where someone is based on their action. When politicians say the exact opposite of what they’ve done in office and I’d treat that with a pretty healthy degree of skepticism.”
Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another presidential contender, have both ramped up criticism of Rubio over the 2013 “gang of eight” bill, which was drafted by Rubio, three Republicans and four Democrats.
Cruz, who voted against the bill, said at a Wednesday town hall that it rendered Rubio indistinguishable on the issue of immigration from Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“That is a path to losing,” Cruz said.
Paul, speaking to Ingraham on Thursday, accused Rubio of working with Democrats on the gang of eight to keep out conservative measures.
“Rubio went along with [New York Democratic Sen.] Chuck Schumer and there was a secret deal made. They voted en bloc against every conservative reform that was brought forward,” said Paul, who also voted against the bill.
The dispute is over whether Rubio’s more recent veer to the right is genuine, and whether he can be trusted. But his words can be interpreted different ways. Democrats can accuse him of flip-flopping. People like Cruz and Paul can make the case that he is too soft on undocumented immigrants because the Senate bill would have allowed many of them to remain in the country and eventually gain citizenship.
Most GOP candidates have said broadly that immigration laws must be enforced and that President Barack Obama’s policies are at best misguided, at worst unconstitutional. But they haven’t been all that specific on how their administrations might apply prosecutorial discretion, if at all.