For presidential hopeful Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL), immigration is more than just an abstract issue being thrown about about on the campaign trail; it’s personal. The candidate is the son of Cuban immigrants, Mario and Oria Rubio, who moved to the United States in 1956 with little education or money, and worked their way into the middle class.
Rubio has described his parents’ experience overcoming obstacles to achieve the American dream as similar to many others who have crossed oceans and left ancestral homelands to give their children greater opportunities, and recently declared, “There’s no nation on Earth that’s more compassionate on immigration than we are.” Yet the freshman senator from Florida also believes the immigration system is “chaotic” and needs fundamental reform, including a focus on both legal and illegal immigration.
Rubio’s Stance on Immigration Issues
Rubio has repeatedly identified the three biggest problems he says are plaguing the current system, including during a CNN Republican contenders debate in September, saying, “First, we have people coming illegally. Second, we have a legal immigration system that no longer works. It is built on the basis of whether you have a relative here instead of merit. And third, we have 11 million people who are here illegally. We must deal with all these problems.”
To that end, Rubio has proposed a three-point plan that begins with immigration security, or enforcement measures designed to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. This first step calls for increased border protection, including the hiring of 20,000 new border patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of walls on the southern border, and the installation of new cameras and sensors. His plan also implements a mandatory E-verify system for employers to ensure immigration laws are being enforced in the workplace, and an entry-exit system to identify and stop visa overstays.
Next, Rubio believes the legal immigration structure currently in place needs an overhaul. His proposal would “modernize” policies that have focused on admitting family members of people currently in the country, and shift to a merit-based system that concentrates on work and skills. He has cited in particular scientists and entrepreneurs. At a CNBC GOP debate this past fall, Rubio explained this, saying, “It has to be based on what skills you have, what you can contribute economically, and most important of all, on whether or not you’re coming here to become an American, not just live in America, but be an American.”
Support for the I-Squared Bill
Rubio also supports the I-Squared bill, which would triple the number of H-1B visas, or temporary work visas, offered to skilled foreign workers annually. While the current number of H-1B visas is capped at 65,000 each year, this bill would raise that limit to as many as 195,000, depending on market conditions — a move that likely would benefit companies in the tech sector, which have lobbied for more foreign talent in the country.
How Rubio Backs the Legislation
While Rubio backs the legislation, he also has called for employers to advertise job openings to skilled American workers before giving foreign workers the opportunity to apply.
“For example, before you hire anyone from abroad, you should have to advertise that job for 180 days,” Rubio said at a CNBC Republican debate, adding, “You also have to prove that you’re going to pay these people more than you would pay someone else, so that you’re not undercutting it by bringing in cheap labor.”
The third aspect of Rubio’s plan deals with how to handle the roughly 11 million people in the country illegally — an often contentious issue. While the candidate opposed amnesty during his bid for the Senate, he joined a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight in 2013 to endorse a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Yet Rubio has distanced himself from that legislation on the campaign trail this season.
At a January town hall in Iowa, he said, “You can’t apply for citizenship, you can apply for a green card. And you have to have that for five years before you can even try to be anything else.”
Rubio’s proposal lays out several steps an individual would have to take to be eligible for permanent resident status. First, he asks those here unlawfully to step out of the shadows and be registered. While those who have committed serious crimes would be deported, qualified individuals would be granted temporary, non-immigrant visas after they fill out an application, pay a fine, learn English, and submit to a background check. They then would be allowed to work legally and travel, though they would not be eligible to collect benefits from federal programs like food stamps and welfare, or to gain health insurance through the government’s Affordable Care Act. After a decade in this status, they could apply for permanent residency.
“This three-step plan is not only the best way to reform our immigration system, it is, in my opinion, the only approach that has any chance of success,” Rubio wrote in his 2015 book American Dreams, adding, “We will miss a great opportunity to reclaim the true meaning of our movement — and, much more important, to restore the true potential of our country — if we fail to act.”
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Original image by Gage Skidmore