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Senator Marco Rubio on the immigration principles framework

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HH: Joined now by United States Senator Marco Rubio of the great state of Florida. Senator Rubio, thanks for joining us, congratulations. This immigration reform set of proposals have got a lot of people saying this time, it might actually work. So congratulations on a good start.

MR: Well, thank you for that. I mean, it’s a good start, I think, to the principles. Obviously, the details are going to be very, very important. And that’s going to be much harder.

HH: Let me begin with one of those details debated much on the web this afternoon. The border commission, consisting of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders, and I’d be happy to be one of those, is that an advisory commission? Or do they actually have authority over declaring the border security to the extent that individuals begin their regularization only when they say so?

MR: Well, that’s one of the things we’re going to have to discuss. I mean, that’s part of turning a principle into a bill, into a law. And here’s my goal, okay? My goal is to ensure that the enforcement stuff happens, because this is not about being tougher than anybody else. This is about the following. If we do not, if the enforcement stuff does not happen, in essence, of the enforcement at the border, the workplace enforcement, the visa tracking, if these things don’t happen, then we are going to be right back here again in five to ten years with another three, four, five million people who are undocumented. So I think…and the only way that I know to guarantee that it happens is to use it as a trigger, to basically say that the path towards a green card does not begin until we can certify that the border is secure, that workplace enforcement method is in place, and the visa tracking system is in place. And I think the commission is a critical part of that. Whether they issue recommendations, whether they judge whether that’s the case, that’s one of the things we’ll have to discuss. But it’s important that we have input from the people that are affected by the border, because it’s one thing to say that the border is certified from, you know, an air conditioned office in Washington. Another thing is to have to deal with it on the ground as a law enforcement person. So we need to figure out their role, but it has to be valuable role.

HH: Yeah, I believe that you’ll find that you’ll get a lot of support for this bill if people actually believe a commission including the AG’s of Texas and New Mexico and California, and the governors, and then community leaders, if they actually have a trigger. Advisory? Not so much. That could be a break point. But tell me, assume for a moment that those things happen, since I think there’s a lot of support for border security happening. Will then the 11 million individuals in the United States who are here illegally become on a path to citizenship or a path to permanent residence?

MR: Well, first of all, there’s no such thing as a path to citizenship. What there is, is a path to permanent residency, a path to a green card. That’s what we have in this country. Nobody can come here and say I want to come in as a citizen. What you get is a green card, which you have to qualify for through a process of applying. Ultimately, if you have a green card, five years after you get it, you can apply for citizenship, which is something you have to qualify for. As you know, you have to pass an exam and a series of other things that you have to do. And there’s a wait for citizenship as well. And so what we’re saying, basically, is that we’re going to allow people access to the green card path, but only after a number of things happen. Number one, they’re going to have to come forward, and they’re going to have to undergo a background check, and they’re going to have to pay fines and back taxes. As a result of that, what they will get is a probationary status, which will give them a work permit. But it will not allow them to have access to any federal benefits or anything like this. They’re going to have to stay in that probationary status for a significant period of time. And once that significant period of time has elapsed, and the security measures are certified, then all they will get is the opportunity to apply for a green card, just like anybody else would – by getting in line, by waiting their turn, and by then having to qualify for the visa that they’re applying for.

HH: Now Senator Rubio, Senator Flake was just on and he thought that in the real world, that process could probably take 15 years until someone starts pulling a lever in a voting booth. Do you think that’s a fair approximation of how it would actually work?

MR: Well, a lot of that will depend on the backlogs that we have in the green card programs. And again, how we deal with the existing…that really is more of a function of how we modernize the legal immigration system. And I believe that immigration in this country should be driven by economics. That is, you know, the higher the unemployment rate, the slower the immigration needs to be. And in addition, I think I’m a supporter of family-based immigration. That’s how my parents came. I have said in my principles that I think in the 21st Century, we can no longer afford to have only 6 1/2% of our immigrants come here based on job skills and so forth. So you know, we need to change that as well. But all that being said, I think what’s important here is that those backlogs is what’s going to largely determine the length of time. But it will be a significant period of time.

HH: Now as to the security issue, of that 11 million, let’s say one tenth of one percent, or a hundred thousand, are really bad actors.

MR: Yeah.

HH: Cartelistas, or Hezbollah, or whatever. How are we going to find them?

MR: Well, first of all, they won’t be able to find, I mean, that’s a problem we’re going to have no matter what we do with immigration. And that’s an issue that we’re going to have no matter what. And I think the initial stages, of course, is anybody who’s undocumented after this process goes forward, anybody who’s undocumented will be deported. I mean, it won’t have any of these other exceptions that are in place, which is my argument, now, for why what we have is a de facto amnesty, because we have 11 million people in this country that are out of status, and there really is no enforcement. I mean, some states might enforce more than others, but by and large, there’s no enforcement mechanism. So my point is we’re better off fixing this once and for all. And so what you raise is a very valid point. And one of the things we’re going to have to consider is okay, once this is in place, and we have created a method for people to come forward, what’s going to happen to the people that refuse to come forward? And the only answer to that is…

HH: We’ll continue that conversation after this break with Senator Marco Rubio on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

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HH: Senator, when we went to break, we were talking about the people who refuse to come forward under a regularization process. How do we, those aren’t really the ones I’m worried about. I know how you’ll get them. But how do we determine whether or not someone who is applying for regularization status, who doesn’t have an arrest record, but who might be part of one of the syndicates, one of the cartels, one of the groups of people we don’t want in the United States? How serious an effort will we make at background checking?

MR: Well, that’s another good point. I mean, again, since we’ve been dealing with principles, these are the level of details that we have to have input on. And that’s why it’s so important that this bill…here’s what I don’t want to see happen. I don’t want to see a bunch of principles become a bill, and then the bill be brought to the floor, and basically everybody be given a take it or leave it type proposition. I hope that we will go through a serious process, that we’ll have some real public hearings, some real public input, and that questions like the ones you’re raising be addressed. So I think that just confirms my desire for stuff like that to be taken into account, because you’re right. There are a lot of people that are not, ever been convicted of a crime. But if you can prove that somehow they’re involved in a criminal syndicate, you don’t want them in the country. And I think no one would disagree with that. It’s just a question of how we do it.

HH: How we do it with the resources. Senator Cruz, your new colleague from Texas, put out a statement this afternoon saying he has deep concerns with the proposed path to citizenship. Do you think he’s misunderstanding what the principle is, because permanent residence is not citizenship.

MR: No, look, I think what he’s saying is fair. He hasn’t seen a bill. He’s just seen a bunch of proposals on an outline of principles. And I think his concern is my concern, that we don’t want to see anything happen that encourages illegal immigration in the future. That’s unfair to people that are doing it the right way. And so I think what he’s saying is I’m concerned about it, because I want to make sure that that’s not what this process ultimately does. I do think, and not him, I do think he understands it, but in general, I believe that there is a misunderstanding out there on both sides. People don’t realize that there is no such thing as a path to citizenship. There is such a thing as a path to a green card, and then it’s up to the individual to decide whether they want to apply for citizenship or not after they get their green card.

HH: There is an argument, though, that individuals who entered originally illegally ought never to be able to vote. And I don’t know if you’ve even crossed that bridge yet, or if it’s been debated within the bipartisan framework. Was that debated?

MR: No, because here’s the problem with that, and that is the law today is that if you are in this country, and you violated our immigration laws, you have to wait ten years, and you have to wait ten years before you can apply for legal entry. And so the reality of it is that that’s the existing punishment for having violated our immigration laws. What I don’t think is good for this country, ultimately, is to have 11 million, 10 million, 9 million people who are living here, and will live here for the rest of their lives, but have absolutely no stake in the future political process of this country. What I predict will happen is as people live in this country for a significant period of time, they start to move up the economic ladder, they start to own things and run things. All of a sudden, these folks start caring about the size of government. All of a sudden, they start to care about the weight of government on them and on their lives. And that’s why I’m so confident about our ability to sell the principles of limited government and free enterprise to anybody who will listen to us reasonably, because I think from a historical perspective, from an analytical perspective, there is no way that anyone can with a straight face argue that big government is good for the people who are trying to make it.

HH: I agree with that 100%. Now I want to turn to those Dreamers, those kids who are under 18 who would be regularized by this bill. Is there anything that can be done for them to give them vouchers so they don’t end up in the worst schools, taught by the worst teachers, in languages they don’t understand? Can’t we give them vouchers to go at least to the best school in the city in which their parents have brought them, or maybe even private sector help to get into a Catholic school or another school? Because just regularizing them in a terrible school system, Marco Rubio, does not help them.

MR: Well, I’m for school choice for every child in America, so that won’t be a hard sell for me. I’ve never heard that discussed in the context of this, and it would be interesting if that proposal were made, what the reaction to it would be. But you know, I can tell you that I’m for school choice for every child in America. I think it’s outrageous that government has more say where your kids go to school than you do.

HH: Well, I think if the immigration reform train is moving, it’s a good time to add choice to it. What about, back to border security, Senator, a lot of people measure border security in miles of fence. Promises made way back in the Bush years were never kept in terms of miles of fence. Is that a good metric? And if so, how far away from it being at success do you think we are?

MR: Well first of all, let me tell you about border security. Border security is about immigration, but it’s even more so about national security and about sovereignty.

HH: Yes.

MR: Look, I’m not in favor of a housekeeper or a gardener coming across the border, but I’m a lot more worried about a terrorist. And I think if you have a porous border, where drugs and guns are being smuggled, it’s very easy for an organized terrorist cell to take advantage of it. So I’m just as concerned about it from that regard, and that’s why I think it’s the flow that concerns us. It’s not necessarily just measuring it by how much money we spend, or how many fences we build. It’s about how effective it is. Do you have operational control of the border? Do you know what’s going on at the border? There are countries that have been able to establish an operational control of their borders. You’re never going to make it 100%. And there has been improvement, but we have a lot more work to do.

HH: Fences do work. They work in Israel, they worked along the Algerian-Tunisian border in the 50s. They do work.

MR: Yeah.

HH: Did the group talk about that in your conversation?

MR: Yes, and you know, that’s a big priority of Senator McCain, being from Arizona. Let me say another thing about the border. What really happens on the border is not just the entire border. There are corridors on the border, and that is areas that are more navigable than others. And those are the corridors that are being used to traffic people, to traffic guns, to traffic drugs. And that’s the place we should focus first. And by the way, since the last time this issue has been considered, there have been significant technological advances that should be a part of this effort. And in fact, they’re discussed in our principles. Those should be employed as well.

HH: The last time this came up, I opposed the bill because of the infamous Z visa. The Z visa was basically a ‘you’re here, you’re fine’.

MR: A blanket. It was a blanket.

HH: Is that gone?

MR: Yes. It’s not a part, there’s no blanket effort here. I think everybody, obviously we want to reform the agricultural workers program. I mean, there are different components to it, but there is no such thing as just a blanket. I mean, by and large, people have to step forward, they have to qualify, they have to meet these requirements, and they get that temporary probational status. And then ultimately, assuming that they want to, they may decide they don’t want to, but many of those folks after some period of time has gone by, and the enforcement has happened, then some folks would qualify to basically apply through the regular legal immigration system. In essence, we’re going to give them a chance to ultimately do is what they should have done to begin with, and that’s apply via the existing legal immigration system, which is getting in line and qualifying for one of those visas that are available when your turn comes up.

HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thanks for joining us today to discuss, look forward to discussing it with you early and often throughout 2013, and good luck in making sure the debate stays focused on the specifics of a bill, not on people’s general angst about a problem.

End of interview.


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