Finally, from Florida's junior U.S. senator comes some common sense advice to fellow Republicans about toning down the hostile rhetoric over immigration. But Marco Rubio's admonishments to the GOP in recent weeks would be even more impressive if it was matched by action. As a politician who has relied heavily on his parents' legal immigration from Cuba in his own narrative, Rubio should feel an obligation to help sort out the country's immigration issues in a fair and reasonable manner. Instead, he's playing all sides.
Rubio was once considered a moderate on immigration issues, and its ground he should reclaim. He once pushed to allow children of illegal immigrants who had graduated from a Florida high school to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities — a notion related to the proposed federal DREAM Act that would also provide some of those students a path to citizenship. And during his two years as Florida House speaker, Rubio is credited with keeping harsh immigration bills at bay.
But since running for the U.S. Senate in 2010, a campaign that led him to cater to the tea party movement, Rubio has all but retreated. He has backed away from his push for in-state tuition for immigrants' children and formally opposes the DREAM Act. And after initially objecting to Arizona's immigration law, he embraced it after it was modified but hardly corrected. He supports tweaking guest worker programs or trying to woo high-achieving foreign scholars through visa modifications. Those would be steps in the right direction, but it all looks more like political calculation than serious commitment to a solution.
Rubio didn't speak up earlier this month when Republican presidential contender Herman Cain joked that the United States should build an electric fence along the Mexico border. Rather, as the St. Petersburg Times' Alex Leary reported, Rubio waited for a friendly crowd at the Federalist Society and in a Fox News interview to suggest such talk might not be in the Republican Party's best interest because it could offend Hispanic voters.
Nor has Rubio shown the leadership of his predecessor, former Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who sought to solve the big issue: What to do about 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country. Martinez partnered with former President George W. Bush to try to build support for a reasonable plan that would create a path to citizenship, but they were blocked by members of their own party.
This issue should be just as natural for Rubio as it was for Martinez, not only because they share Cuban heritage, but because they hail from a state with a rich and diverse tradition of immigration. His recent attempts to lower the temperature on the political rhetoric are helpful. Now Rubio needs to focus on more real solutions.