WASHINGTON, DC — Attendees of the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference were enjoying the second course of their lunch on Thursday when their speaker, presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) was interrupted. “Implement DAPA,” one young man stood up and yelled repeatedly as he was escorted from the ballroom to jeers from the audience.
“If you did that in another country, you would be in jail tonight,” Rubio said after pausing his speech. “If you do that in another country, your family’s house could be raided, your businesses can be closed. In America, people have a right to interrupt speeches, they have a right to be rude. They have a right to be wrong.”
While Rubio, a child of Cuban immigrants, once supported comprehensive immigration reform, but he has recently changed his stance and alienated so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants who come to the country as children, like Martin Negrete. Negrete, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, told ThinkProgress he and nine other students traveled almost 3,000 miles from Washington state to challenge Rubio at the conservative group’s conference.
“Because of DACA, I’ve been given the opportunity to keep my education going, to work and service my community the way we all want to do, “ the 21-year-old student at Eastern Washington University said. “I personally would be hit directly if Mr. Rubio was to attack DACA and take it away. My brother and I are both undocumented individuals and it’s really hard for us to live life knowing that at any moment, people like Rubio can step in and just tell us, ‘get out of my country, you don’t deserve to be here.’”
Rubio was once seen by political analysts as the Republican candidate who would be able to appeal to Latino voters in 2016. But in the past two years, he has swung between supporting a permanent fix to bring the country’s 11.2 million undocumented immigrants into the formal American society and berating DREAMers while distancing himself from comprehensive reform.
During an event hosted by Faith & Freedom last year, five immigration activists disrupted Rubio’s speech shouting, “Senator Rubio, you don’t stand with Latinos. Latinos stand with DREAMers” and was told to stop “flip-flopping with our community.” At that event, Rubio responded even more harshly. “They’re harming their own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate into the United States,” he said as the protesters were booted from the event.
At another conservative event this year, the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, Rubio conceded that he had again shifted his view on immigration and now believes that a bill focused only on border security is the “only way forward.”
And although he was once a primary architect of a piece of comprehensive immigration legislation in the Senate that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he said in an interview last month that “time has passed” and that he would only support a “non-immigrant, non-permanent work visa” for the undocumented population. “Marco Rubio has been one of the champions in attacking DACA and attacking DAPA,” Negrete said. “DACA is a program that has already been implemented and he constantly fights to try to eliminate this program. We cannot let that happen.”
Negrete said his family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 7 years old so his brother Brandon could receive a heart transplant. The two boys learned English, attended U.S. schools and have “grown up American,” he said.
“Our goal is to let Marco Rubio as well as the Republican party know that we’re not going to stand down. We’re going to keep pushing so that we can protect these programs that are benefiting us, that are helping our community and that are definitely letting us progress as youth,” he said.