Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told participants at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference this morning in Miami that immigration is a gateway issue that touches everyone in the Hispanic community.
Rubio added that the United States must choose in the 2012 elections a different economic option than the one the current president has taken the nation in, which “will rob us of the American Dream.”
When a group of young people stood up to protest, yelling, “Why are you anti-immigrant?” Rubio said they should be allowed to stay because “these young people raise a legitimate issue.” Rubio said he wanted them to hear his speech so they could understand that he is not what they called him.
Rubio said during his talk, which opened the conference, that the success immigrants look for when coming to the U.S. is possible through the “American free enterprise system” — something he said is in danger under the current presidential administration.
Rubio added that the current immigration system is broken, with no guest worker program and a burdensome legal immigration system, but he argued that “there is broad bipartisan support” for immigration reform and repeated, “We should be the party of legal immigration.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush this week told Bloomberg that “the debate over immigration laws in the Republican Party could be a problem for its [presidential] nominee.”
“In swing-states, Hispanic voters are increasingly the swing voters, and if you, by your tone more than anything else, send a signal that ‘you’re not wanted on my team — and I’m not saying any candidate has done that — you could alienate voters that could be part of the winning” formula,” Bush told the news outlet.
Rubio said today during his speech it is necessary to “tailor legal immigration and visa programs to the 21st century,” and called for border security, E-Verify, and a tamper-proof identification card you can obtain when “you come into this country.”
Conservatives have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable, Rubio added, but he said that those on the left are creating unreal expectations in the Latino community.
According to Rubio, there is broad bipartisan support in the U.S. for solutions that would create a path to legal status for young people who under no fault of their own came to this country illegally, but are willing to enter higher education or go to the military but that does not support illegal immigration.
He said that current legislative proposals for that path to legal status do not have bipartisan support. That legislation is the DREAM Act; according to a Pew Hispanic Center poll, 91 percent of Latinos support it.
The Act would grant people who entered the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 conditional permanent resident status for a period of six years, after which they would be eligible to become legal permanent residents if they obtain at least an associate-level college degree or serve in the military for two years.
Rubio said there has to be a way to deal with immigration reform that respects the law, adding that the majority of “people who come here, legal and not legal” respect the law.
“We have laws,” Rubio said, arguing that we cannot legalize 11 million people, but “the challenge of this century” is how can we make immigration an issue of pride once again.
Rubio, who is seen as a viable vice presidential candidate, is well known in Florida, but not so much by Latino voters in other states. An ABC/Univision/Latino Decisions poll released this week shows that in California, 45 percent of Latino voters have never heard of Rubio, in Texas that number is 39 percent, in New York/New Jersey it is 38 percent and in other states, it is 40 percent.
During a conference call held this week, Arturo Carmona of Presente.org said his organization’s “focus on the Latino vote will begin of course in Florida, a state meriting attention because of the very serious possibility that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio may be the GOP vice presidential candidate.”