Last Friday, Marco Rubio appeared at the NRI Ideas Summit in Washington DC and was asked to discuss his views on, and plan for, immigration. He was first asked about the Gang of Eight bill, and his previous work on immigration legislation:
I believed that if we didn’t do something to preempt him, the President would sign an executive order granting amnesty to six or seven million people, after what he had done on DACA for minors, and that’s exactly what’s happened. And I do think that’s a dynamic that has changed the entire equation for two reasons: Since that, the Senate bill passed, we’ve had a migratory crisis on the southern border, which has further eroded public confidence in the institutions of government. And the second is the signature of that executive order which has not just poisoned the debate, but increasingly put us in an incredibly precarious position because there’s strong evidence, backed up by the fact that I’ve had leaders of the Northern Triangle of Central America, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, tell me that DACA was used by trafficking groups in the Northern Triangle to recruit people to send their children here illegally.
Those are major factors, and so I believe now that the only responsible way to move forward is to first and foremost secure our immigration system. If we do not do that, we won’t have the political support to move forward, but beyond that it would be very difficult to achieve the other reforms that we want. I believe that if you move forward on a reform now, given those factors, without first putting in place security, you will have, in the interim, migratory crisis on the border that makes it even harder for us to achieve the other parts that need to be done, beginning with modernizing our legal immigration system.
We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts one million people a year, legally, no other country in the world even comes close to that. And it is largely on the basis of whether or not you have a relative living here. And the argument that I use is that, in the 21st century, it has to be based on merit and the ability to contribute economically. And there will still be people seeking asylum, and refugee status, and there will be room for that. There will still be a family component to it, but ultimately, we are in a global competition for talent, and our legal immigration system should reflect it.
I also think that the reality is, and conservatism is also about reality unlike the left that oftentimes lives in the theoretical or in the fantasy world, we have 12 to 13 million human beings living in this country illegally. Not even the most vociferous opponent of the Senate bill filed an amendment to round up and deport 12 million people, no one in this room is asking for that. It’s not a position that people are saying we need to do. We do need to address that, and I believe there is a responsible way to address it. I believe we’ll have the support of the American people to address it in a reasonable and responsible way, but I don’t think we can do it until you first secure, not just the border, but our employment verification system, and the fact that 40 percent, over 40 percent of the people in this country illegally entered legally. They didn’t jump a fence, they came on a visa, and the visa expired and they stayed. And we don’t know who they are or where they are because, primarily, when you come in on a visa, we log you in, but we never record when you leave. We’re like a hotel that checks you in, but never checks you out, and it doesn’t work. So, that has to be dealt with as well. And that’s why, I think, at this moment the time has passed for a bill of that type.
Rubio was then asked, hypothetically, how, as President, he would deal with the undocumented workers who are already in this country. Rubio took the opportunity to lay out a plan for dealing with the issue:
If you are in the country for a decade or longer, have not otherwise violated our laws, you would have to come forward, undergo a criminal background check, obviously pass that. You would have to pay a fine for having broken our laws, you would have to start paying taxes, you would have to learn English, and in exchange for all of that, what you would get is the equivalent of a non-immigrant, non-permanent work visa to be in the U.S. And you would have to be in that status for a significant period of time, and at some point, if you choose, you could apply for permanent residency, but you’d have to do it through that modernized legal immigration system, and you’d have to do it just like everybody else. It’s not a special process or anything of that nature, and in the interim, you’d have that work status, if you choose. The past experiences show us, the ‘86 bill that passed during the Reagan years, a large percentage of people who received that amnesty at that time, have ever become citizens thereafter.
Rubio went on to discuss some of the problems with certain immigration reform movements:
You don’t have a right to illegally immigrate here. And one of the problems I have with the groups out there that are advocating for immigration reform, some of them, is they approach this debate with the argument that they have a right to be here. It’s not a right. What you are appealing to is the best interests of the country, you are appealing to our morality as people, but you can’t appeal to a right, there is no right to illegally immigrate anywhere in the world.
Joshua Pinho works for American Principles in Action.