1. Opinion

Republican candidates pander on immigration

Sen. Marco Rubio would have more credibility calling out Newt Gingrich for an "inflammatory" immigration ad against Mitt Romney if all three of them weren't so wrong on immigration issues. Rubio and the two leading Republican presidential contenders embrace unenlightened positions on immigration, and they cling to outdated, isolationist policy toward Cuba as Florida and Tampa Bay benefit from the Obama administration's reforms. The candidates pandered on immigration again Thursday night in a debate in Jacksonville, five days before Tuesday's primary election.

Rubio has criticized a Gingrich ad describing Romney as "the most anti-immigrant candidate" in the field, a description the former House speaker defended Thursday night. Romney called that attack "repulsive." Meanwhile, Rubio is nurturing his status as the party's next great hope. In fact, the nation's Hispanics are much more diverse and not in step with the anti-immigration rhetoric.

Where is Rubio's concern for immigrant sensitivities when Gingrich and Romney call for English to be government's official language, or Gingrich suggests outsourcing to MasterCard or Visa the nation's guest worker program? Romney and Rubio go even further than Gingrich in rejecting a pathway for illegal immigrants to become citizens and remain in the United States. And good luck with what Romney calls "self-deportation."

The candidates also talked tough this week on Cuba, with Gingrich refusing to rule out covert action against the Castro regime. Romney marginally softened his opposition to the DREAM Act, which would provide a course to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who graduate from college or enlist in the military. Rubio does not support the DREAM Act; Romney and Gingrich would limit eligibility to those who join the armed forces. That's progress, but not nearly enough.

This pandering does nothing to resolve how to get Florida's crops picked without using illegal immigrants, how to help undocumented students in the state's public schools become successful or how to cultivate relations with Cuba in ways that would encourage democracy there and position Florida to benefit from trade and tourism. The Republicans are particularly mistaken in their hard line on Cuba, which poses no security threat.

Cuban-Americans have welcomed looser restrictions on travel to Cuba that President Barack Obama authorized in 2009; since then, hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans have visited relatives on the island. Tampa is now the second-busiest among the 18 U.S. airports allowed to offer direct flights to Cuba.

Calling for more border walls, isolating Cuba and opposing the DREAM Act might sound forceful on the campaign trail. But that is indeed anti-immigrant, and it is coming from both Romney and Gingrich. Rubio's hypocrisy in tamping down the rhetoric while supporting some of the same policies suggests a senator more interested in political calculations than enlightened policy that would benefit all of his constituents.