Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday that he does not view Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration as a “model,’’ distancing himself from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has embraced the legislation.
The Cuban-American senator, who spoke at the University of Phoenix/National Journal's Next America forum in Washington, is viewed as a top name on Romney’s vice presidential shortlist.
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Rubio said he understood why frustration with illegal immigration led Arizona to pass a law allowing police to demand proof of citizenship. He also disagreed with the Obama administration’s contention that the law is unconstitutional. But he added, “I do not believe [laws like the one in Arizona] should be a model for the country.’’
As a Senate candidate in 2010, Rubio vacillated on the Arizona law. He initially expressed some concerns but later said he would have voted for it.
Rubio’s reservations come at a time when polls show the Republican Party facing a yawning deficit of support among Hispanic voters. Both parties have launched national campaigns to reach out to the Hispanic community, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and the key to victory in a number of swing states.
Democrats have been zealously attacking Republican opposition to the Dream Act, potentially popular legislation that would grant citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who go to college or enroll in the military. In recent weeks, Rubio has started countering the criticism by proposing an alternative that would allow these children to obtain legal status but not citizenship.
If Rubio is successful in building support for his proposal, he would help the GOP kick a potentially losing issue off the election-year table. Critics have said that his proposal would create a permanent underclass.
“Some people are counting on using this issue as a wedge in the election,’’ said Rubio, who added that he hoped to unveil his legislation this summer. “This has to be a longer-term commitment. How can we win the next election – that’s not the design of this bill.’’
There are already signs of interest from both sides of the debate, reflecting Rubio’s stature as one of the nation's most influential Hispanic elected officials. Shortly before he spoke, the Republican-leaning Hispanic Leadership Network released a survey that found voters across the board strongly prefer granting legal status with a work visa to the children of illegal immigrants instead of cititzenship. The poll was conducted by Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion, who worked on Rubio’s successful 2010 Senate campaign.
On Monday, one of the best known immigration-advocates in the country, Cheryl Little of Americans for Immigrant Justice, wrote a column for The Miami Herald praising Rubio’s idea.
Rubio said his staff has talked to the Romney campaign about the proposal. “I would hope we could convince him to support a concept like this,’’ he said. “I think it’s something that would unite this country.’’