October 10, 2015 - 9:38 pm
For most Democrats, the time for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is right now.
They point to the hiring of thousands more Border Patrol officers and President Barack Obama’s aggressive deportation numbers as proof that border security has improved. And they praise Obama for taking action to ensure people who were brought to America illegally as children and have stayed out of trouble should be allowed to say. (The president later expanded that program to their parents, too.)
Republicans disagree. The Senate — including Nevada Sen. Dean Heller — passed a bipartisan immigration bill in 2013 that imposed border security reforms and a lengthy pathway to citizenship. But House Republicans — including Nevada Rep. Joe Heck — ignored the legislation. (Heck said infirm standards for border security prompted his no vote.)
Count Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio as standing between the two camps. Sen. Rubio, R-Fla., was on the prevailing side of that 2013 vote, but he’s been a critic of Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
“So what I say is we have to get illegal immigration under control,” said Rubio in an interview Friday. “It’s never going to be zero, but it has be under control. Right now, people feel like it’s out of control. And that’s what’s hurting us because what they say is, ‘We’re willing to deal with the people that are already here, but not if this is going to happen again.'”
In order to give that assurance, Rubio says there needs to be additional physical security at the border, mandatory use of the e-Verify system to prevent the hiring of people who’ve come to the country illegally and entry and exit tracking of people who come to America on visas.
“And then, we can go to the American people and say it’s bearing fruit,” he said. A demonstrable reduction in the numbers of illegal immigrants would unlock the second part of immigration reform, which is what to do with people who’ve already come illegally, including DREAMer kids and their parents. And a majority of Republicans would support it, Rubio said.
“Once you prove to people that future illegal immigration is not going to look like what we have today, it’s going to be under control, and you’ve modernized the legal immigration issue, then we’ll deal responsibly and reasonably with the people that are here illegally.”
That process, Rubio said, would take about 10 years. Fines and taxes would have to be paid. Work permits could be issued. Eventually, people could apply for a green card. For children, things could work even faster.
If you’ve noticed that Rubio — assuming he gets elected president in 2016 and is re-elected in 2020 — would be deep into building his presidential library by the time his pathway to legal status produces fruit for immigrants in the country today, you’re not alone.
But it’s extremely tempting to take the senator at his word, and to see what would happen if we really did follow his plan for border security. Would Republicans really support a pathway to legal status? (Keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean eventual citizenship.) Would those now cheering for Donald Trump’s big beautiful wall along the southern border settle for Rubio’s high-tech version? Will those voters who believe illegal immigration increases crime and reduces employment opportunities for Americans change their minds?
In other words, has Rubio correctly read his party’s objections to immigration? And if not, isn’t the second part of his plan doomed to failure?
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, certainly can’t be counted among his party’s hardcore immigration reform opponents. The question is, has he properly counted all those who are?
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSebelius or reach him at 702-387-5276 or email@example.com.