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Marco Rubio’s Ham-Handed Treatment of the Immigration Issue

Why is the Florida senator's approach to the issue so simplistic, shallow, flawed, and utterly predictable?

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

June 17, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Immigration should have been an easy issue for Marco Rubio. But it hasn’t turned out that way.

“Immigration to me is a deeply personal issue,” the Florida senator told Politico recently in an interview. “My parents are immigrants, my grandparents were immigrants, my wife’s family were immigrants, I’ve grown up around immigrants, continue to live around immigrants, so I know immigration about as well as anybody who’s involved in it.”

So Rubio thinks that he knows immigration as well as anyone? If that’s true, then why is the Republican’s approach to the issue so simplistic, shallow, flawed, and utterly predictable?

It’s one of the reasons that Rubio’s stock has dropped with Latino voters outside Florida’s Cuban-American community, which represents just 3 percent of the U.S. Latino population. Rubio’s main selling point to fellow Republicans — in Congress and the presidential campaign trail — had been that he might be able to help the GOP make peace with disaffected Latinos in the Southwest who are tired of being treated like piñatas by opportunistic Republican politicians.

Naturalized Mexicans and Mexican-Americans — who together make up 67 percent of Latinos — want politicians to deal with the immigration issue in a fair, honest, and thoughtful way. They want reasonable solutions that go beyond slogans, simple solutions, and “enforcement only” policies that don’t acknowledge the economic dimension to the problem.

Rubio failed that test on three occasions: (1) While campaigning for the Senate, he backed Arizona’s blatantly unconstitutional immigration law after initially opposing it; (2) He told a reporter for Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network, that he opposed the recently re-introduced DREAM Act, which would give legal status to illegal immigrants who go to college or enlist in the military because he considers it “part of some broader effort to grant blanket amnesty”; and (3) He jumped on the bandwagon of the effort in Congress — led by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX  — to make it mandatory for businesses to participate in the “e-verify” program, which is designed to tell them if an employee’s Social Security number is real, and even became a co-sponsor of the companion bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA.

Rubio really got snookered on that last one. “E-verity” is all smoke and mirrors. For one thing, the system isn’t designed to tell employers if a Social Security number actually belongs to the person who handed the employer the card, only if the number belongs to someone out there in the universe. Besides, Smith recently cut a deal with the agricultural lobby — an industry that admits to being a big employer of illegal immigrants — to give them three years to screen their workforce and make sure everyone is legal. And lastly, do you know who is spared from e-verify altogether? The No. 1 offender and employer of illegal immigrants: the American household. Nannies, gardeners, housekeepers, elderly care providers — all of mother’s little helpers — will not be checked.

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