By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
President Obama is expected to take on immigration reform in his State of the Union address this month, but only after Sen. Marco Rubio takes a stab at it first.
Rubio has been working on a plan to reform the country’s immigration laws, while also trying to corral support among fellow Republicans for his ideas. So far, the majority of Rubio’s party has been ardently opposed to potential reform measures including amnesty and have even pushed for tighter border security. Finding middle ground between the GOP’s mostly rigid immigration policy preferences and Democrats in an effort to create some real reform has proven impossible in previous years. But things could be different with Rubio in play.
Getting Republicans on board would be difficult for anyone who attempts to sponsor immigration reform, but it might be easiest for Florida’s junior senator, who has had the support of the party since his hard-right Senate campaign in 2010.
If Rubio can pull it off, a 2016 presidential candidacy would appear even more in his sights, The National Journal reports:
By describing a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday that would smooth a course for both high-skilled immigrants and farmworkers, Rubio answered a question that’s dogged his first two years in Washington: Is he willing to lead? Though Rubio has yet to put pen to paper in the form of legislation and delve into the nitty-gritty details, his initiative may dampen criticism that the charismatic politician is more style than substance.
That criticism gained momentum earlier this year when Rubio proposed allowing young illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military to stay in this country. But a bill never materialized and President Obama stole the spotlight by issuing an executive order giving those young people temporary legal status. This time, Rubio appears to be trying to get out ahead of the president, who is expected to talk about his immigration plan in the State of the Union speech next month.
So far, though, Rubio is skirting a tough line. According to the Journal, “Rubio is choosing his words carefully, insisting his plan ‘is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship.’ ”
Rubio’s plan would have the most power if he releases it before Obama’s State of the Union address. GOP strategists have said it would save him from looking like he was simply reacting to the president’s ideas.
Most importantly, the Republican Party is reeling from a political fight they lost over demographics. President Obama’s first term in office saw 1 million deportations, many of which were of non-violent criminals. Despite the crackdown, however, Obama won the 2012 election handily with strong support from Latinos, the group most affected by the president’s immigration crackdowns.
The GOP has a lot of work to do to make inroads with the Latino community. If real immigration reform were to pass at the behest of a Republican, it could be a step toward gaining Latino support for the GOP — support Rubio would need if he chooses to run for president in 2016.