With immigration soon to take center stage in Washington, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio beat President Obama to the punch in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Friday, sharing his plan to “modernize” the nations “outdated” immigration system.
“I don’t think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5 percent of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill,” Rubio said.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio said his plan will make it easier for skilled engineers and seasonal farm workers to immigrate, adding that it differs from Obama’s expected comprehensive immigration reform in that it’s a phased approach rather than a single omnibus bill.
Obama intends to push Congress in the coming weeks to embrace a plan that includes a “path to citizenship” for the nation’s illegal alien population.
In the wake of the November election, where Obama captured 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, many in the GOP are saying it’s time for the party to find a more positive, practical approach to immigration. Electoral demographics are compelling some to demand a move beyond policies based only on tough enforcement.
“The immigration issue is a gateway issue for Hispanics, no doubt about it,” Rubio told the Wall Street Journal. “No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don’t like them or want them here, it’s difficult to get them to listen to anything else.”
“Here’s how I envision it. They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check.”
Anyone who commits a serious crime would be deported, he said, adding:
“They would be fingerprinted. They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they’ve been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country.”
With all eyes on Rubio as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, immigration is a precarious issue for Florida’s junior senator, perhaps even a third rail. And he can be sure that regardless of what he offers, the Democratic Party is willing to take it a step further. In the end, how Rubio navigates these tricky waters may very well be the deciding factor in whether the nation sees him as presidential timber or not.