Marco Rubio On Comprehensive Immigration Reform: "It's Never Going To Happen"

Marco Rubio
Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) waits to speak at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire April 17, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL.) clarified his evolved views of comprehensive immigration reform on Sunday, telling Face The Nation that the bill he’d helped write in 2013 was truly dead. He also outlined a new position which stresses immigration enforcement. In a wide ranging interview, Rubio welcomed the large field of Republican candidates vying for the party’s nomination, downplayed his competition with former mentor Jeb Bush, and characterized Hillary Clinton as an Obama doppelganger in terms of policy. On immigration, Bill Schieffer asked Rubio if he still agreed with the 2013 law. If elected president, would Rubio sign a pass an identical version of that bill?

“Well, that's a hypothetical that will never happen,” Rubio said.

The 2013 bill, which passed the Senate but never came to a vote in the House, would have granted conditional amnesty to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It was forged by a bipartisan working group that included Sen. Rubio. Much like the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by President Reagan in 1986, the bill would have paired immigration amnesty with a massive border security program. Specifically, it required the government to construct a 700 mile border fence, deploy nearly 40,000 additional border patrol agents, and implement an employment verification (E-Verify) system for all companies.

“The first thing I would do [if I were president] is, I would ask Congress to pass a very specific bill that puts in place E-Verify, an entry-exit tracking to prevent visa overstays, and improve security on the border,” Rubio said.

In other words, Rubio would only pass the enforcement half of the grand bargain that he helped write in 2013. He’s no longer for the “comprehensive” part of comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, he wants the reforms passed in chunks, starting with those most appealing to conservative voters. He also wants a complete overhaul of the main U.S. philosophy on immigration. For decades, American immigration law has prioritized applications based on family ties. That philosophy has prioritized spouses, siblings, parents and children, allowing immigrant families to stay together and translate their support systems into their new American experience.

“Step two would be, we would modernize our legal immigration system, less family- based, more merit-based,” (prioritizing professional skills), Rubio said. “And then the third step would be to pass the bill that goes to the 10 million people that are here, or 12 million that are here illegally. If they have been for longer than a decade, they have to pass background check, they have to learn English, they have to pay taxes, they have to pay a fine [....] It's a long process. It's a reasonable process. It's a fair process. But it has to happen in that order. And it begins with serious enforcement measures.”

If elected, Rubio says that he would end both of Barack Obama’s deferred action programs, DACA (which gives deportation relief and work permission to non-citizens brought to the U.S. as children) and DAPA (which relieves their parents) eventually. However, in a recent interview with Jorge Ramos, he claimed that DACA in particular can’t be ended immediately; those who have gained employment out of the shadows would lose their jobs and suffer other unfair inconveniences. In his grander immigration plan, it’s unclear if he’d extend DACA for the entire legislative process for his three steps, while they waited for fences to be constructed and E-Verify to be executed, and bills to be passed.  

“You were part of that bipartisan group that put together an immigration reform bill. You voted for it and then, when you got a lot of heat from people in your own party, you walked away from it,” Schieffer said.  

“Well, that's not an accurate assessment,” Rubio said. “What I'm saying to people is, we can't do it in a massive piece of legislation. And I know because I tried. We understand that we have to deal with 12 million human beings that are in this country that have been here for longer than a decade. We know we have to deal with this. We're not prepared to deal with it until first you can prove to us this will never happen again.”

Marco Rubio defected from a comprehensive immigration reform supporter to the secure-the-border-first camp. Hillary Clinton, currently Rubio’s only formally announced Democratic challenger, favors temporary amnesty more than she did during her 2007 campaign. She now supports deferred action for migrants until a more permanent bill is passed. DACA and DAPA recipients are eligible for things like driver’s licenses, something that Clinton opposed or only supported lightheartedly in the past. But, says a Clinton aide, new circumstances pushed her to a new policy.

“In 2007, we didn't have an executive action that would focus our resources on deporting felons, not families, allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States," the aide said. "In the last eight years, states have increasingly been moving in this direction with positive results. Hillary supports those state efforts. As she said in 2007, she believes the long-term solution is comprehensive immigration reform, but given Republican obstruction, we can no longer wait for that," the unnamed aide told Business Insider.

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