U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Saturday touted a bipartisan immigration reform plan as a way to end “de facto amnesty” for 11 million people living illegally in the United States and to better track immigrants who might harm national security.
Speaking in Las Vegas, the Florida Republican said it’s too soon to draw lessons from the Boston Marathon bombings, which police say were carried out by two immigrant Chechen brothers who came to the United States in 2002 .
“These two killers entered the United States under the legal immigration system,” Rubio said, adding authorities don’t know enough about the case to draw further conclusions. “Whatever lessons we can learn, not just for immigration but for security, they ought to be applied.”
“America will never be the same after Boston,” Rubio added, just as the United States wasn’t the same after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Rubio was in Las Vegas to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting at The Venetian, the hotel-casino owned by generous GOP supporter Sheldon Adelson.
Rubio, who lived in Las Vegas for several years while he was growing up, is considered a leading potential Republican candidate for president in 2016. The Hispanic senator’s efforts to reform immigration with seven other senators who crafted the legislation and introduced it last week could affect his political ambitions.
Under the plan, Rubio said there would be no free rides for immigrants who broke the law by coming to the United States illegally. He said it would take at least 13 years to be able to apply for U.S. citizenship and those in the country illegally would have to go to the back of the line.
In the meantime, those immigrants would have to pay fines and back taxes and learn English, among other things, to stay in the country legally and one day perhaps become a U.S. citizen.
The U.S. borders also would be better secured to track people coming into and out of the country, he said. The legislation also addresses guest worker visas and other persistent immigration issues.
“It’s not an ideal plan, but it’s tough and it’s fair and it’s enforceable,” Rubio said at a news conference where he spoke English and Spanish. “We have a broken immigration system, and that needs to be addressed. ... Our current system is a disaster. What we have now is de facto amnesty.”
Rubio will need to persuade many of his Republican colleagues to back the bipartisan immigration effort, including U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. During last year’s Senate campaign, Rubio visited Las Vegas to boost Heller’s election over then-Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
“He’s expressed an openness and willingness to be part of the solution,” Rubio said of Heller. “I found him to be very open-minded.”
Rubio acknowledged that many GOP lawmakers, particularly conservatives, oppose immigration reform. He said some are perpetuating competing myths, such as the ideas that millions of immigrants will take jobs away from Americans or will all go on the welfare rolls and become a burden to society.
Rubio said he expects a tough fight to get immigration reform passed this year.
“I’m not asking for unanimous consent,” he said. “What I’m not going to allow is for people to perpetuate myths.”
Asked if this was a do-or-die moment for immigration reform, Rubio said the United States must address it one way or another in the near future because people in the country illegally are here to stay.
“You walk by them. You drive by them every single day,” he said, adding they’re in the nation’s churches, in its schools. “They are going to be here for the rest of their lives. So let’s fix this in a way that assures us we never have to do this again. ... It will continue to nag the country until it’s solved. I hope we’ll solve it now.”
Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal .com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.