Rubio addresses Senate on immigration reform

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) talked about immigration reform in a Senate floor speech today:

This speech was meant to put the “Gang of Eight” proposal Rubio co-designed into context.  He takes pains to note that these proposals are a “framework,” an “architecture of the work we hope to undertake,” not a finished bill.  “It’s the beginning of a process that we hope will lead to a real solution,” he said.

“Our broken legal immigration system is a significant contributor to illegal immigration,” Rubio declared.  “It is so expensive, it is so complicated sometimes to legally immigrate to the United States, or to renew a visa, that it is encouraging people to do it the wrong way.”  He called for bringing 21st-century technology to bear on administering and enforcing our immigration laws, while strongly defending the moral and practical right of the United States to set and enforce such laws.

Rubio tried to balance sympathy for both the human plight of illegal immigrants, and a clear recognition of their status as lawbreakers.  “There is no such thing as a ‘legal right’ to immigrate illegally to the United States,” he said.  “On the other hand, these are 11 million human beings… 11 million people who, irrespective of how they did it, came here – the vast majority of them – in pursuit of what every one of us would recognize as the American Dream.”

While conceding that the current illegal population is likely destined to remain on American soil one way or the other, Rubio emphasized that he will not accept any immigration bill that doesn’t include stronger border security measures, employment verification, and visa tracking, to prevent the problem from occurring again.  He also discussed border security as a national security issue: “What keeps me up at night is the thought of a terrorist coming across the border.”

He disputed characterizations of his reform proposals as “blanket amnesty,” emphasizing that applicants would be required to pass a thorough background check, as well as paying back taxes and fines, to obtain a “non-immigrant visa.”  Holders of these work permits would not qualify for federal benefits; they would be allowed only to remain in the United States and work, for a “significant period of time,” while an application for a green card is processed.  This could take a while, since these provisional citizens would have to “wait in line” behind legal immigrants.  “All we’re going to do is give them a chance to do what they should have done in the first place,” Rubio promised.

He described the current situation of lax enforcement and unknown illegal populations as “de facto amnesty,” and admitted cleaning it up would not be easy.  He issued a warning to President Obama, scheduled to speak on immigration later the same day: “If this endeavor becomes a bidding war, to see who can come up with the easiest, cheapest, and quickest pathway to a green card possible, this thing is not gonna go well, folks.”