Marco Rubio: Immigration Point Man

| January 14 2013
John Walker

Marco Rubio, the dynamic freshman senator from Florida, is about to make the biggest wager of his very young political career. He is prepared to bet his own political future on immigration reform, perhaps the most contentious domestic issue of the next two years.

Rubio’s headlong plunge into the immigration issue may be a profile in courage or an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, his personal initiative and willingness to take a major risk shows a spark of leadership. It makes him the leading GOP point man on immigration against the plans of the Obama administration.

Only a week after his reelection, the president clearly stated his intention to tackle the immigration issue quickly.

“We need to seize the moment,” the president said. “My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration.”

Although the president failed to propose immigration reform during his first term, he now sees an opportunity after receiving 71% of the Hispanic vote in November. His anticipated proposals are already taking shape; some may even be designed to garner bipartisan support.

These proposals would include strong border security, penalties for hiring undocumented workers, a pathway to legal status after paying back taxes and any possible fines, and a requirement to learn English.

The president is sure to introduce the immigration reform theme in his inaugural address and will follow it with details in his State of the Union address next month.

Senator Rubio has no intention of waiting for Obama’s proposals. Perhaps the senator learned his lesson last year when he worked to fashion his own version of the Dream Act, only to see the president steal the show with his own unilateral action that temporarily halted the deportation of the young illegals who came to the United States as children. The president’s initiative also provided a provision for young illegals to obtain work permits.

Rubio avoids the term comprehensive immigration reform and prefers to say that he seeks a series of bills to modernize the system. He wants to navigate a middle course between blanket amnesty of the left and intransigent opposition to immigration reform on the right.

In an extensive interview with the Wall Street Journal, Rubio touched all the bases. He wants more visas for skilled workers and a sensible plan for seasonal farm workers. He wants border enforcement and a plan for the 8 to 12 million undocumented migrants inAmericato earn work permits and possible citizenship.

Rubio is no softy on immigration. He supports some version of the E-Verify system. Regarding illegals already in the country, he insists that they would need to undergo a background check and be fingerprinted. They would have to pay a fine, back taxes and maybe even do community service. They would need to understand some English. Then they could get legal status and be allowed to stay in the country.

Rubio insists that his plan is not a blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship. Illegals would not be allowed to jump the line. They would get behind everybody else who came before them. They would not be required to leave the country but would need to meet significant requirements to obtain work permits.

Rubio admits that immigration reform is not the final answer for the Republican Party’s challenge of improving its status Hispanics. But he states clearly that the immigration issue is a “gateway” issue for Hispanics.

“No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don’t like them or want them here it’s difficult to get them to listen to anything else,” he said.

Rubio is the most charismatic young politician inAmerica. He is the best public speaker, reminiscent of the young Barack Obama when he burst on the public scene nearly a decade ago.

The Florida senator’s foray into the immigration issue is a severe test. He is clearly a front runner for the presidential nomination in 2016. How he fares with his immigration initiative could well determine his own future and the prospects of the Republican Party in the midterm elections next year and the presidential contest two years later.

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