Much of the talk on Capitol Hill over the last couple of weeks has been about the “Gang of Eight” and their deal for immigration reform. The deal was unveiled at a press conference at the end of January by a group of eight senators including Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez, and former GOP presidential candidate John McCain and Marco Rubio, who is a prominent Hispanic Republican. The senators announced their agreement to a framework wherein the estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently in the United States achieve probationary legal residency if they don’t have a criminal record, register with the government and pay a fine and back taxes. All others will be immediately deported. There will then be increased funding to help enforce border security. Among other reforms aimed at border security, this deal requires companies to “e-verify” their employees in order to ascertain their legal status. It also requires that a commission be created “comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.”
At the point when the proposed enforcement measures are complete, these probationary aliens will be allowed to begin the process to attain citizenship.
On its surface, this seems like a fair enough compromise, with the Republican concession being the immediate legal status and possibility a path to citizenship and the Democrats allowing the citizenship to be contingent on real border security. Therein, however, lies the rub.
After Marco Rubio went on numerous national radio shows to rally conservative grassroots support for the deal, a major roadblock arose. Rubio faced pushback from the right, with leaders such as Charles Krauthammer writing that even the probationary legalization should be off the table until the border was completely secure. He sought to assure these critics by explaining that the only way he would be party to these reforms was if the path to citizenship was contingent on the commission saying that the border met security requirements. Chuck Schumer rained on his parade, when he later said that his view of the deal was that the commission was only there to advise, and the secretary of homeland security made the determination whether the border was indeed secure. President Obama, as well, declared the use of border security as a “trigger,” a non-starter. This effectively killed the deal, as this difference seems irreconcilable.
The question then becomes what Rubio does now. His numerous appearances pushing this deal have more or less made him the politician most linked to immigration reform. Being that it would be seen as a setback if this goes nowhere, is he better served doing nothing, and holding out for the Democrats to agree to his view of the deal, or brokering a compromise that gets it done?
The answer is: Rubio should do absolutely nothing.
The reason Republicans are addressing immigration reform now was explained by John McCain. “Elections. Elections,” he said, when questioned why this deal would get done now, when a similar one failed in 2007. “The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens and we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.” Exit polls of the 2012 election showed Hispanics, who overwhelmingly voted for the president, felt Republicans didn’t care enough about them, especially in their stances on immigration, with all the talk of “self-deportation” by Mitt Romney. Rubio, among others, felt the need to take the bull by the horns and address this right away, because, as he told Rush Limbaugh, “In the absence of stepping forward with our own principles, the left and the president will tell people what we stand for, and it’s not necessarily going to be true.”
So now it has been addressed, and Rubio has succeeded in making himself, and not one of his Democratic counterparts, the most visible face of immigration reform. He has gotten overwhelmingly positive press, with publications such as Time putting him on the cover, and asking if his immigration reform bill makes him “The Republican Savior.” His net positive rating of 12 in a recent survey by Quinnipiac University is seven points stronger than Obama’s, at a time when Congress as a whole has a net negative rating of 60. He clearly has managed to solidify his place in this debate as the person who cares most about the passage of immigration reform. This puts him in a position of power for the upcoming negotiations.
As Rubio has said time and again, the current status of the 11 million illegal aliens is de facto amnesty. As a way of lessening the sting to his base of granting immediate legal status to these people, he explained that since it’s practically impossible to deport them, they more or less already have that status. That being true, the bipartisan compromise in essence is only border security for the right, and citizenship for the left. Rubio gets to endear himself to the right by killing any deal that doesn’t have real security in it, keeping the compromise exactly how he described it. But by cleverly positioning himself as the “owner” of this deal, and getting out in front of the others to define it first, he can afford to kill the deal, because it seems as though the ones intent on blocking it, by not agreeing to the deal as described, are the president and Sen. Schumer.
So it’s a win-win for Rubio. If the bill gets passed as he describes it, he gets what Mark Levin called a bill “more conservative than the…bill…Reagan signed.” And if the Democrats block a Hispanic politician’s immigration bill, the next round of exit polls may very well show that Hispanics feel there’s a different party that doesn’t care about them.