Exclusive: Rubio hits back at critics
Sen. Marco Rubio told Human Events that while his conservative critics may have bad memories about past efforts to reform immigration, the GOP should press ahead with its own agenda – and not wait for the president to act.
In an in-depth and exclusive interview, the Florida senator offered specifics about how he envisioned the statement of principles presented last week by the “Gang of Eight” senators would work in practice, from green cards to employment verification.
The “heaviest lift,” he said, would be securing the border in a way that was effective and gave Americans confidence in those efforts. Securing the border is a key provision and “if the bill that comes out doesn’t have real security and real enforcement mechanisms, I won’t support it,” Rubio said. “If the bill that comes out has a special pathway to citizenship, I won’t support it.”
He is encouraged that “some of the president’s highest profile supporters in the Senate have signed onto these principles in writing.”
And finally, what is his motivation in taking the lead on this contentious issue?
“This is something that’s hurting America and we have to deal with it now and we have to deal with it once for all.”
Human Events: What is your response to conservative critics, such as Ann Coulter, who called the statement of principles from the Gang of Eight the same as amnesty?
Marco Rubio: I recognize and understand that people have bad memories and bad feelings about past efforts to reform immigration, but what I’ve done is I’ve just identified a problem and an issue that was going to emerge with or without the president, who clearly telegraphed his intention to raise this issue. And I just feel that conservatives are better having our own solutions than waiting for the president to come up with one and simply responding.
And I’ve tried to come up with a solution that recognizes the reality of the fact that we have 11 million people here who are in violation of our immigration laws, but they are here and most of them are here for the rest of their lives. And that we need to deal with it, but we need to deal with it in a way that’s fair to people who are trying to come legally and have come legally [in the] past and also in a way that doesn’t encourage illegal immigration in the future.
HE: In response to Ann Coulter’s assertion that the 11 million illegal immigrants already here will just vote for Democrats:
MR: I think it’s unfortunately true that a significant percentage of current Hispanic voters favor the Democratic Party and voted for the president; but, I don’t believe that’s necessarily a permanent thing. The bottom line is that if we can’t convince people of all backgrounds, including Americans of Hispanic descent, that limited government and free enterprise is a better way, not just for them, but for the country, not only is the conservative movement doomed, but ultimately I think America is doomed, in terms of us continuing being an exceptional nation. So, I have tremendous confidence in our ability, in our, I mean, the movement’s ability, to communicate our principles and convince people to change their minds on these things.
I just think it’s going to be harder to do that and it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy is an entire generation of Americans of Hispanic descent end up convinced and believing the Left’s line that conservatives don’t like people like them. That’s not true, but that’s what they’re being told and we can’t do anything that makes that argument easier for Democrats.
So, my real motivation to deal with this is that this something that’s hurting America and we have to deal with it now and we have to deal with it once for all. And if others have a better idea about how to deal with it, I’m open to it. And if it’s better than mine, I’ll take theirs. But, we just can’t sit around and wait for the president to come up with his idea and I just tried to craft a set of principles that I thought helped solved this problem without violating those things we believe in.
HE: Talk about the statement of principles, specifically the first principle. Ms. Coulter says that ‘all the children born to the 11 million newly legalized illegals will be instant citizens, able to collect welfare for their whole families and vote as soon as they are old enough.’ That’s not going to change?
MR: That’s happening now. Any child born in the U.S. today becomes a citizen, whether their parents are documented or not. I mean nothing in our framework changes that, one way or another, that’s what’s happening now. I mean, the 11 million people who are here, some are paying taxes, some aren’t. Some pay taxes because they’re working under someone else’s Social Security number, others aren’t paying at all or being paid in cash.
HE: How do you enforce that the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living here ‘go to the back of the line’:
MR: Here’s how it works. If you are undocumented, you come forward, you have two options. Option No. 1 is go back to your native country, wait 10 years and apply for a green card. That’s the current law right now. Option No. 2 is if you want to stay here, you will have to pass a background check, you will have to pay a fine for wrongdoing, you will have to pay back taxes that you owe the federal government for the years you have been here. And in exchange, all you will get is a work permit, a non-immigrant visa, and because it’s a non-immigrant visa, you will not be allowed any federal financial benefits, including Obamacare. And you will have to remain in that status for a significant period of time and until real enforcement mechanisms are in place, and I mean real enforcement mechanisms that we can verify. As I said clearly, if a bill that emerges from these principles, [that does] not have real enforcement mechanisms that people can have confidence in, I won’t support it because that’s the lynchpin to the whole thing.
HE: What are those mechanisms?
MR: That’s why I want to engage people that are most impacted by it—the border state governors, the attorneys general and law enforcement and that’s why I have conversations with, for example, with Gov. [Susana] Martinez of New Mexico, and Gov. [Rick] Perry of Texas and we need to be having more of that because they’re the ones who are living this. They’re the ones that can tell us better about how to exactly certify that and what’s the best way is to ensure that there is real control of the border where in essence the government reaches a point where it has a high probability of either preventing a crossing or apprehending those who cross within a rapid period of time. And, so just to go back to the framework for a second, once a significant period of time has elapsed and the enforcement mechanisms are verified and in place, then what these folks will get, and the only thing they will get, is a chance to apply for a green card, just the same if they would have gone back to the native country or had they applied the right way from the beginning. They’ll have to get in line at that moment behind everyone who has applied before them. They’ll have to wait until their turn comes up whenever that is in the future and then they’ll have to qualify for one of the existing caps not a special one in order to get their green card. That’s the process I’ve outlined.
HE: What’s the incentive for people to come forward?
MR: The reason that they will come forward is twofold. Number one is because the opportunity to be documented allows them to get a driver’s license, to get health insurance, get a regular job. Their identity is their own. It’ll allow them to travel, you know, it removes all the specter of being in the shadows. The second reason why they would is because, quite frankly, they won’t be able to find job if we have a real enforcement mechanism in place, because the enforcement mechanism isn’t just the border, there’s three enforcement things that have to happen. The first is the border, the second is a visa tracking system for both entry and exit that has to be fully implemented like the law requires. And No. 3, is a workplace enforcement mechanism, whether it be E-Verify or something like that where, in essence, they won’t be able, with that in place, to find a job if they don’t come forward and avail themselves of this process.
HE: What criteria will constitute a ‘secure border’?
MR: First of all, our point of contention with the president isn’t just the border. The main point of contention is that the president says we need to do border security, but it’s not a condition for anything else. And my argument is, not only border security, but the visa tracking system and the workplace enforcement is a condition of the green card process even starting. So, while the president is saying he wants to do those things, he doesn’t want them to be a condition of the green card process and I insist they must be or there isn’t going to be a bill.
I define control of the border in a way where you have a very high probability of preventing a crossing or apprehending someone who crosses quickly. That’s not the issue. The issue is going to be how are we going to certify that that’s in place. How do we certify that that’s in place in a way that has the confidence of people? There is a tremendous amount of skepticism out there that it’ll never happen. People will tell you that this what people were saying in 1986, this is what they have been saying forever that they’re going to have enforcement, and they never do it. And, I agree and that’s why we have to come up with a way that people have confidence in [border control] and if we can’t come up with a way that people have confidence in, then this whole thing just won’t work.
HE: What is the best way to secure the border?
MR: Listen, I think the fence is the best way, but I think there’s a combination of a fence and technology working together, not one instead of the other. What’s important to understand about the border is that the border is divided into nine different sectors and they are all different from each other. What works better in one sector is different from what works in a different part of the border. But, in essence, that’s why we need to engage the people that are on the border. I mean, one thing is to listen to an expert in an air-conditioned or heated office in Washington. Another is to go down and talk to law enforcement and others in Texas, in New Mexico, in California, in Arizona who are living with it and getting their input and take and that’s why the notion of a commission is so important because the people who are living with this are the ones who can give us an indication, not just of what works, but how we can certify it.
HE: Who else are you talking to or plan to talk to?
MR: We haven’t gone as far as to necessarily talk about the makeup of the commission. I just personally have talked to Gov. Perry, Gov. Martinez and obviously the senators from those states that are impacted by the border.
HE: Have you talked to House members for support?
MR: Yeah – we’ve talked to some House members and explained to them more less what our framework looks like and where my mind is on these issues, but I don’t know what their framework is and they haven’t shared it with us. And, like everyone else, we’re anxious and curious to see what they come up with because, like I said, there nothing is going to happen, or pass, unless the House, obviously, is in favor of it as well.
HE: Have you spoken to Senate leadership regarding the framework?
MR: Well, I mean, I think the members that talked to me about it are encouraged that we are involved and want us to continue to develop something. As everyone always says, the devil is in the details and I agree. I mean, what we put forth is principles; it’s not a plan, and it’s not a bill. And these comparisons to the efforts in 2007, I think, are unfair. ’07 was a bill. It was a piece of legislation. All that’s been introduced right now is a set of principles; it’s just the architecture. You actually have to go in now and come up with the language, and if the bill that comes out doesn’t have real security and real enforcement mechanisms, I won’t support it. If the bill that comes out has a special pathway to citizenship, I won’t support it. If the bill that comes out violates the principles that I’ve outlined, I won’t be supportive of it. So, I think we have to give it a shot.
HE: The Heritage Foundation has come out for piece-by-piece immigration legislation. Why not try it that way?
MR: I’m an advocate of that. The reason why I think it’s better to do it that way is that you get a better product, I’ve always said that. But that’s not the direction the Senate is moving. The truth is, the direction the Senate is moving is one bill and so what I’m going to try to do is influence that bill to make it the best it can possibly be. I’m not going to get into a bidding war about making who can come up with making the fastest path. I’m not going to be involved in trading bad public policy with good public policy. If this is a good piece of legislation that we can come up with based on our principles, then that’s good. I still believe we get a better product if we do it in individual pieces, but unfortunately that’s not the direction the Senate is moving right now and that’s not the process that’s moving forward. So, I’m going to try to influence the process that’s moving forward.
HE: What does Sen. Rubio’s ideal immigration legislation look like?
MR: The key to all of this, of course, is that trigger involving security at the border. I think the one place enforcement is going to be easy to discern is that we either have it or we don’t. Before implementing the tracking system for the visas, the entry and the exit, we either have that or we don’t. What’s going to be the hardest to do is not just establish to what a secure border is, but a process to certify it. A real process that certifies, yes the border is secure and people have confidence that it’s true. That’s going to be the hardest thing to do, in my opinion. Spend a lot of time and take a lot of input to accomplish that and I recognize that this is going to be the heaviest lift here.
HE: Must E-Verify be mandatory in the final bill?
MR: Oh, I think that’s in our principles already. Absolutely. I mean, whether it’s E-Verify or some other electronic-based system that requires workplace enforcement, that’s in our principles now.
HE: The guest worker program has a long history of fraud and abuse. What’s the first step in fixing that?
MR: Did you notice the president did not mention it in his principles? He ignored that because that has been unpopular with labor unions. But, if we don’t have that, the whole thing won’t work, because if we don’t have a system where in times of rapid economic growth and low unemployment, we can bring in temporary labor to do jobs in America that we can’t domestic employees for, if we can’t come up with a system to do that, we’re going to have a couple million of undocumented people here in short order. And, I’m not going to be a part of any effort that brings us back here again in a couple of years.
HE: You won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t have a secure border?
MR: Of course not, that’s why we have these principles. I think the positive development here is that some of the president’s highest profile supporters in the Senate have signed on to these principles in writing.
Adam Tragone is managing editor of Human Events. Follow him on Twitter @AdamTragone.