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Rubio: U.S. immigration should be based more on economics, less on family connection

February 12, 2014 at 6:12 PM EDT
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio says that the current U.S. immigration system is “completely broken” and that enforcement mechanisms are not working. But will there be enough consensus among members to move a bill forward? The Florida senator sat down with PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill about the future of immigration reform.

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: What are the chances, you think, that we’re going to get an immigration bill of any kind through the House or the Senate this year?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, it depends what you mean by an immigration bill. I think we can pass – I think we can pass bills that reform our legal immigration system, which is completely broken. I think there’s an emerging consensus that we need to have an immigration system that is more based on economics and job skill and merit and less on family connection, not totally discard family, but it has to be less of a factor.

I think there has to be a consensus, and I think there is, that the enforcement mechanisms we have in place don’t — we don’t — we don’t work. We don’t have a viable entry/exit tracking system for visitors. We don’t have — there are sectors of the border that remain highly insecure. And we don’t have an electronic system for employers to verify.

GWEN IFILL: What — am I missing the consensus part? I heard the speaker of the House say there are things that everyone agrees on, but they don’t trust the president.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: No, no, on those issues, I think there’s a consensus. Here’s where the trust factor comes in, the third aspect of the problem, right? We have to modernize legal immigration. I don’t think that’s controversial. We have to have better enforcement mechanisms. That in and of itself is not controversial. And then the third question, which is the toughest: What do you do with 12 million human beings that are here now, who are illegally here in the country today? What do you do with them?

So no one is advocating you round them up and deport them. Nobody reasonable is advocating that. And no one’s saying we should — or blanket amnesty either. So what the emerging consensus has been is we understand we have to deal with that. We understand we have to create a system to somehow accommodate the people that are here already, but we’re only willing to do that if we can ensure that this problem never happens again. And they push – and they point back to 1986, when in fact 3 million people were given status, but then the enforcement measures didn’t happen, and that led to 12 million.

So the trust factor that the speaker’s talking about is the argument that I got last year when we were pushing on this. People would say to me, we agree with the outline of what you’ve put forth, but we don’t believe that — we think the president will simply ignore the enforcement aspects of the law –

GWEN IFILL: In the way that Ronald Reagan did? Is that what you’re saying?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yeah, they’d say that. They’ll say that even under Reagan, they didn’t enforce the law and that this president wouldn’t either, and as a result, you’ll have the legalization, but you’ll never get the enforcement. So we came up with a — the idea of a trigger. First the enforcement happens, and that would trigger the legalization process. Again, people didn’t trust that because they believe that the trigger is in the eye of the beholder –

GWEN IFILL: Is it that they don’t trust the way of getting to it, or they just don’t trust the president?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: I think there’s a general mistrust of the federal government given the historical reality that neither party has effectively enforced immigration laws. You don’t get to 12 million people without — across four presidencies if you don’t have some level of, you know, both sides having some responsibility for it.

And then it goes beyond that. It goes to a distrust of this president. And the reason why is they’ll say — and rightfully so — look at “Obamacare,” his own signature law. He is unilaterally picking and choosing which parts of it go into effect and which parts do not. So once again, just a few days ago, he waives another requirement of “Obamacare.” What if he does that to the entry/exit tracking system? What if he does that to the border security?

GWEN IFILL: So that’s an argument to do nothing?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: That’s an argument that’s being used to say it’s undoable under this president. My argument is, and continues to be — and this was my preference from the beginning. Now, the Senate began to work on a comprehensive approach, and I decided to work on that because I wanted to influence what it looked like and hopefully use that to create momentum to solve the problem. And I still want us to solve the problem. But the argument that I make is why don’t we start working on the things we agree on?

And I — so people who resist that say, well, then you’ll only do that stuff, and you’ll never get to the legalization part. But my argument is if we start to do some of these things, I believe we can create the space, the confidence and the momentum to finish the job. I don’t know if that’ll take one year or two years. I can tell you this issue’s been out there now for 12 years. And I can tell you this all-or-nothing approach has not worked for 12 years. Now, we can continue the all-or-nothing attitude towards this, but I think you’re going to wind up with nothing.

And the problem gets harder to solve every year that goes by. It truly does. These kids, when they first started debating this, the kids that were brought here as youngsters — they’re not kids anymore. They’ve grown up now. They’ve started lives and families, perhaps gotten married. The human part of this gets harder to solve as well because of these factors. So these are all things that we need to take into consideration.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Thank you.