Sen. Marco Rubio on Cuba policy and immigration reform
Buried amid widespread calls that the young migrants flowing to the southern U.S. border be returned home is a question of fairness with a strong Florida connection: If Cubans who flee their country are welcomed, why shouldn’t those escaping gang violence and drug trafficking?
Sen. Marco Rubio says that’s a valid question, even as he thinks most of the border children should not stay.
“These issues of migration are very difficult because they involve in many cases very compelling stories,” the Republican son of Cuban immigrants said in an interview with Florida reporters before Congress broke for the August recess. “And that has to be balanced with the right of a sovereign country to control the flow by which people enter. It’s a very complex issue. Of all the issues I’ve faced in my years in both the Legislature and here, it poses probably the most wrenching humanitarian ones, because no matter what you set the number at or what you set the process up as, you know that there are going to be compelling stories that you’re not going to be able to address.”
Cubans gets privileged status under the decades-old Cuban Adjustment Act. It has caused resentment among other immigrant groups and led to abuses. Some Cubans obtain legal residency in the United States but then travel back and forth to their homeland. And there is a growing trend of Cubans avoiding the traditional entry through water (under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy those who are apprehended before stepping on U.S. soil are returned) and going through Mexico.
Reuters recently reported that “more than 13,500 Cubans without the proper papers had tried to cross the southwestern U.S. border since Oct. 1, 2013, more than during all of the previous 12 months. The 12-month total was about 5,500 four years ago.” They have a name: Dusty foot Cubans.
Said Rubio: “I’ve never criticized anyone who wants to go back to Cuba to visit a loved one, their mother is dying, their children are there. What I do think is that if you come to this country and say you are in exile, fleeing oppression and a year and day after you lived here you travel back to Cuba 20-30-40 times a year, it really undermines that argument. And other groups look at that and say, 'They’re no different than we are, why are we treated differently?’ That sort of travel puts at risk the status Cubans have so I’ve always been open to re-examining that given changes in migratory patterns.”
But Rubio concedes he has no plan. He talked about making changes during last year’s immigration debate but did not seek to insert provisions in the sweeping bill he helped write.
In the interview, Rubio also explained why he’s called to end the deferred action program President Barack Obama began in 2012 to grant legal status to some children of illegal immigrants. Rubio, who has backed off calls for comprehensive immigration reform, is sending a mixed message as he was working on legislation with a similar aim but never produced a bill.
He says one complication was the possibility it would encourage people to come illegally, though Obama’s policy applies only to those who arrived before 2007 and came to the United States before their 16th birthday, among other restrictions. More than 640,000 “Dreamers” have applied under the program, including 27,000 from Florida.
“My view is that after two years you haven’t applied for (deferred action), you probably are not interested in the program,” Rubio said. “So it’s important to send that message that that program is concluded and no new people are going to be allowed into it and, more importantly, that it’s not going to be expanded to a new population of individuals because that will create the lure for more people to try to come.”
Obama is considering expanding the idea to the broader population of immigrants. That would likely ignite a firestorm among Republicans in Washington who already accuse the president over overstepping his authority on a number of issues.
Would that be the end of reform efforts on Capitol Hill?
“It will certainly set it back even further,” Rubio said. “I continue to support reform. How can anyone look at what we have today and say this thing works? How can anyone look at our immigration system and say, 'It’s fine like it is, just do a better job of enforcement’? I’m sure some people have adopted that position, but the system doesn’t work.” Rubio now is calling for a piecemeal approach that starts with more enforcement.
House Republicans recently voted to authorize a lawsuit against Obama on the executive power question. The suit focuses on his decision to delay an employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Republicans don’t like the law anyway, so it’s an odd situation. But the health care law remains a rallying point for activists.
Do you support the suit?
“I haven’t read the lawsuit so I don’t want to comment on the complaint. I’d be endorsing all four corners of it,” Rubio said. “I will say this: This president has increasingly become reckless in his use of executive power in ways that are counterproductive to the future of the country and unnecessarily divisive. It’s really hard to believe that the state senator that gave that speech at the (Democratic) convention in 2004 about there not being a liberal America or a conservative America only a United States of America is the same person who is now president, who constantly seeks to divide us against each other. Part of that is the use of executive powers that I think have set back progress long-term on a bunch of issues, and immigration is one of them. I know that it’s harder to do it by legislation and frustrating and longer, but when you go out and do these things by executive order you’re taking one step forward and three steps back. You’ve seen the way Obamacare has been selectively applied; that’s been incredibly disruptive in the marketplace. The list goes on and on … That undermines the presidency.
Rubio, like other Republicans, has directed more attention lately to Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., blaming him for inaction and for not allowing amendments on legislation.
“I don’t know how we can possibly move forward if you don’t even allow other voices to be heard,” Rubio said. “People may say 'That’s how the other side did it when they were in charge.’ I wasn’t here for that. And I hope that if we take the majority in November, Republicans will allow the Senate process to be respectful of all views. Because at the end of the day everyone who is here was elected to serve and represent the people who sent them here. They have a right to be heard, even if they don’t have the votes to turn (ideas) into law.”