Politics

Rubio Blames Both Sides for Immigration Stalemate

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Rebecca Kaplan
June 22, 2012, 11:53 a.m.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida, who has been widely dis­cussed as a po­ten­tial vice pres­id­en­tial pick for Mitt Rom­ney, laid in­to both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans for politi­ciz­ing the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate in a way that he said is stand­ing in the way of re­form.

Ad­dress­ing hun­dreds of His­pan­ic act­iv­ists at a meet­ing of the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Latino Elec­ted and Ap­poin­ted Of­fi­cials, Ru­bio said he had planned to speak about the eco­nomy and jobs, but he changed his mind to fo­cus on im­mig­ra­tion be­cause “both my head and my heart tell me today, per­haps we are as close as we’ve ever been to a crit­ic­al turn­ing point in the de­bate about im­mig­ra­tion.”

The sen­at­or, whose fam­ily im­mig­rated to the United States from Cuba, said, “It is a power­ful polit­ic­al is­sue. I have seen people use it to raise money. I have seen people take the le­git­im­ate con­cerns about il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion and turn it in­to pan­ic, and turn that pan­ic in­to fear, and an­ger, and turn that an­ger in­to votes and money. I’ve also seen people go in the oth­er dir­ec­tion. Any­one who dis­agrees with their ideas on il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion is anti-im­mig­rant and anti-His­pan­ic. That’s ri­dicu­lous. It’s ri­dicu­lous. Everything is about polit­ics. I’ve seen it firsthand.”

As a res­ult, Ru­bio said, few mem­bers of the Sen­ate are in­ter­ested in work­ing on im­mig­ra­tion re­form with him be­cause they have been “burned” by the is­sue. He had been draft­ing le­gis­la­tion to provide leg­al status for the chil­dren of il­leg­al im­mig­rants who at­tend col­lege or serve in the mil­it­ary. His ef­forts were side­lined a week ago when Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would stop de­port­ing young il­leg­al im­mig­rants who had ar­rived in the United States be­fore their 16th birth­day, had no crim­in­al his­tory, and pur­sued an edu­ca­tion or mil­it­ary ser­vice.

“The re­ac­tion of many on the left was an im­me­di­ate dis­missal,” Ru­bio said of his pro­pos­al. “I saw people on the left say­ing that I was pro­pos­ing a new three-fifths com­prom­ise, hark­en­ing back to the days when a slave was only three-fifths of a per­son. I was ac­cused of sup­port­ing apartheid.”

It was dif­fer­ent, he said, when Obama achieved es­sen­tially the same goals through ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. “Now it’s the greatest idea in the world. I don’t care who gets the cred­it, I don’t, but it ex­poses the fact that this is­sue is all about polit­ics for some people,” he said.

Still, he could not res­ist a few par­tis­an swipes at Obama, who was sched­uled to ad­dress the con­fer­ence on Fri­day af­ter­noon, two hours after Ru­bio.

“I was temp­ted to come here today and rip open the policies of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and I know in a few mo­ments you’ll hear from the pres­id­ent. I was temp­ted to come here and tell you, ‘Hey, he hasn’t been here in three years. What a co­in­cid­ence—it’s an elec­tion year.’”

Ru­bio’s speech, like one that Rom­ney de­livered at the NA­LEO con­fer­ence on Thursday, re­ceived mod­er­ate but not en­thu­si­ast­ic ap­plause. Still, he seemed to have a deep­er con­nec­tion with the audi­ence, per­haps as a res­ult of be­gin­ning his speech with a few para­graphs of Span­ish prais­ing the group and thank­ing them for hold­ing their con­fer­ence in Flor­ida. Ru­bio also re­coun­ted the story of his grand­fath­er, who came to the United States for a second time on a once-leg­al im­mig­rant visa that had ex­pired after he re­turned to Cuba for more than a year. Des­pite a de­port­a­tion or­der, he was ul­ti­mately al­lowed to stay.

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