Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is expected to announce his 2016 presidential run Monday at Freedom Tower in Florida, or the “Ellis Island of the South,” so monikered because the center offered relief to Cuban refugees seeking political asylum from Fidel Castro’s regime between 1962 and 1974. But despite his announcement at a site that symbolizes hope and freedom for refugees, Rubio has not lately been the friend to immigration reform he once was.
Some political analysts believe that Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants from the Latino-heavy districts of Florida, could appeal to Latinos and could fit the description of a Republican nominee who scores “somewhere in the mid-40s, or better, among Hispanic voters,” as pollster Whit Ayres stated at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
But even if Rubio is on the face of it, an immigration success story through his Cuban exile parents, Latinos and immigrant advocates aren’t necessarily into him. That’s hardly a surprise: In the past two years, Rubio has swung wildly between supporting a permanent fix to bring the country’s 11.2 million undocumented immigrants into the formal American society and berating so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
Rubio’s tap dance comes in part from a diverse potential constituency that includes appeasing both Tea Party supporters who helped put him in the Senate in 2010, and Latinos, who are quickly becoming something of an outreach necessity for the Republican Party to take the White House in 2016. Latinos are also the fastest-growing voter electorate.
For more than 40 percent of Latinos living in Florida, immigration policy is a personal matter. Rubio acknowledged as much in 2013, stating, “the immigration issue is a gateway issue for Hispanics, no doubt about it.” The Republican National Committee’s 2012 autopsy report was just as explicit, “Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
As Rubio has moved toward a possible presidential announcement, he has increasingly distanced himself from any sort of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship or even deportation relief for undocumented immigrants — of the sort he championed just two years ago as a sponsor of the Senate’s reform bill. Below is a timeline of his most prominent positions.
2012: RUBIO STATES THAT DREAMERS ‘ARE REAL PEOPLE.’ Immigrant advocates interrupted Rubio’s speech in January, asking him “please help us, the immigrant community.” Rubio responded, “These young people are very brave to be here today. They raise a very legitimate issue. … I ask that you let them stay. I don’t stand for what they claim I stand for.”
In April, Rubio reached out to immigrant advocates and DREAMers to discuss an “alternative” bill that he was crafting that would stop short of creating a pathway to citizenship, but still grant deportation relief to some immigrants brought to the country as children.
Two months later, President Obama announced his executive action program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offered temporary two-year deportation relief and work authorization to upwards of two million undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16. Rubio told reporters in October that Obama’s DACA program had “poisoned the well” because of “the process by which he did it… there’s going to be problems in implementing it.” Rubio also stated that DREAMers “are real people. I’ve met these people; I live near them. … I’ve seen their tears.”
JANUARY 2013: RUBIO SUPPORTS GRANTING LEGAL STATUS TO UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS. Rubio told the Wall Street Journal that he supports “’a comprehensive package of bills,’” — maybe four or five as opposed to one omnibus — move through Congress concurrently,” though stated that “it’s not a line in the sand for me” to pass only a comprehensive bill. He supported granting legal status to undocumented immigrants who would undertake various steps like undergoing a background check, being fingerprinted, paying fines and back taxes, doing community service, learning English, and getting assimilated. If undocumented immigrants “haven’t violated any of the conditions of that status,” Rubio remarked that the person could apply for permanent residency, perhaps later leading to citizenship, the Wall Street Journal reported.
APRIL — MAY 2013: RUBIO SPONSORS SENATE’S COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL. Rubio was one of eight senators in the “Gang of Eight to introduce a comprehensive bill that included both enforcement measures and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country. Rubio told Meet the Press’ David Gregory, “this bill modernizes it in a way that’s going to get broad-based support. … this bill once introduced, as we’ve agreed to, I think, will show that a broad base of enforcement measures, unlike anything this country’s ever seen.”
Appearing on Fox News the following month, Rubio argued that undocumented immigrants wouldn’t disadvantage people applying for legal status. He said, “Undocumented immigrants living in the United States will apply for temporary legal status, begin working and paying taxes, and apply for lawful permanent resident status though the same merit based system everyone else must use to earn a green card and if all people currently waiting for family and employment green cards have had their priority.”
When confronted by mothers of DREAMers, he insisted “I’m with you guys. … I am the author of this bill, this proposal. I don’t understand why you keep asking me to commit myself. What more can I commit?”
JUNE 11 -18, 2013: RUBIO URGES REPUBLICAN SENATORS NOT TO ENDORSE IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL. Just months after proposing the bill, Rubio told his Republican colleagues to refrain from publicly endorsing the Senate immigration bill until border security provisions were strengthened.
Rubio told conservatives that he would support amendments to prevent immigrants from attaining permanent legal status until the border was secure, while at the same time assuring Hispanic media that the path of legalization would not be lengthened. Two days later, he refused to say whether he would support his own bill when the Senate voted on it.
JUNE 27, 2013: RUBIO VOTES FOR HIS OWN BILL. “Here, immigrants will give their children the life they once wanted for themselves,” he said on the Senate floor. “Here generations of unfulfilled dreams will finally come to pass. Even with all our challenges, we remain the shining city on the hill. We are still the hope of the world. And in the end, that is why I support this reform.” The bill passed the Senate on a 68–32 vote.
OCTOBER 2013: RUBIO ABANDONS HIS OWN BILL, SUPPORTS PIECEMEAL LEGISLATION. By October, momentum in the House for passing the Senate’s reform had abated, and Rubio backed away from his own book. His spokesman told Breitbart News that Speaker Boehner should not advance a single comprehensive bill, but rather pass legislation piecemeal. “At this point, the most realistic way to make progress on immigration would be through a series of individual bills,” the Rubio spokesman said. “Any effort to use a limited bill as a ruse to trigger a conference that would then produce a comprehensive bill would be counterproductive. Furthermore, any such effort would fail, because any single senator can and will block conference unless such conference is specifically instructed to limit the conference to only the issue dealt with in the underlying bill.”
Rubio’s noncommittal stance on comprehensive reform was further bolstered by Boehner who “declared quickly and often that the Senate bill was a nonstarter in his chamber,” Politico reported. Only days after House Republican leaders released a one-page immigration principles document that outlined a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants, Boehner announced that he wouldn’t move on immigration reform until House Republicans could restore their trust in the president.
JULY 2014: RUBIO SUPPORTS PROVISIONS IN HIS OWN BILL AGAIN. When more than 68,000 unaccompanied children from Latin America crossed the border last year, the President asked for Congress to approve a $3.7 billion emergency funding package to deal with the crisis. “Let’s not just throw $3.7 billion at this problem to take care of it as a one-time issue,” Rubio told a local Florida Fox affiliate. “Let’s put in place permanent border security measures, more fencing, more agents, more technology, E-Verify, an entry-exit tracking system to prevent visa over-stays.” Those provisions Rubio mentioned were all part of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill that he had helped draft and supported just the year before. He also told The Ed Morrissey Show that reform was “a three-stage process that starts with border security, the establishment of a merit-based legal immigration system and concludes with a prolonged legalization process for the 11 million undocumented residents.”
AUGUST 2014: RUBIO STATES DREAMERS ‘DON’T HAVE A RIGHT TO ILLEGALLY IMMIGRATE’ TO THE U.S. During a “Faith and Freedom” barbeque event, five immigration activists disrupted Rubio’s speech shouting, “Senator Rubio, you don’t stand with Latinos. Latinos stand with DREAMers” and to stop “flip-flopping with our community.” Still at the podium talking to the conservative audience, Rubio responded, “They’re harming their own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate into the United States.” He waited to begin his speech again after the DREAMers were booted from the event.
In the same month, Rubio wrote a letter to the president stating that his executive action would “close the door to real immigration reform” and that he would only support a “series of sequential pieces,” or a piecemeal approach to immigration.
Rubio also raised the possibility of shutting down the government during a continuing resolution budget fight last year by holding the president’s executive action hostage. “There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a continuing resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this,” Rubio told Breitbart News. “I’m interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue.”
FEBRUARY 2015. RUBIO SAYS BORDER SECURITY IS THE ‘ONLY WAY FORWARD.’ Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, Rubio conceded he has shifted his view on immigration and now believes that a bill focused only on border security is the “only way forward.”
During an appearance on Fox News in March, Rubio elaborated: “I think I’m realistic on immigration.” He told the talk show hosts that he supported piecemeal legislation and said that border security must be tackled first. Rubio said, “We can’t do it all at once, especially with the two executive orders… the latest one in particular. The American people will not support doing anything further on immigration until they first believe that illegal immigration in the future is under control. If that happens, I think people are willing to be very reasonable about those that are here now, that have been here for a long time, and have otherwise not violated our laws.”