Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) , as the GOP’s most prominent player, occupies a unique and important role in the immigration reform debate. For Florida mixed-status families and Latino voters around the country, the positions Rubio will adopt on immigration will have significant consequence on how immigration legislation will finally look like. However, his recent shift to the right and a wavering leadership on the issue is cause for concern not only for immigrant families but also for 2016.
Rubio has somewhat of a mixed record with the immigrant community. While he has had sensitive rhetoric at times of historic insensitivity — i.e., "self-deportation" — his only legislative accomplishment for immigrants is making them ineligible for the Child Tax Credit despite their hard work, including those with citizen children for whom the tax credit was designed.
The Gang of Eight immigration legislation will be what Rubio is most strongly associated with going forward, and his push will be the impression he leaves with the Latino community that will set the tone for his career-long relationship with us in Florida and across the country.
Rubio, as part of his more right-leaning stances, has pledged to toughen border security “triggers” in the legislation. These triggers would be conditions which must be met before green cards and citizenship would be opened up for undocumented immigrants. These conditions are sometimes included, however, to delay immigration reform.
Rubio has also come out against Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) amendment that would allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their partner. "If that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not have support. It will not have my support" said Rubio. Much like immigrant rights, however, LGBT rights are an issue which is more and more popular among youth and Latino voters. Sixty-four percent of Latinos support the inclusion of same-sex couples in comprehensive immigration reform.
Similarly, Rubio’s leadership has repeatedly wavered on an issue he chose to lead — hardly the trait of presidential stature. In March, while members of the Gang of Eight expressed optimism of a deal after hammering details on the guest worker program, Rubio had cold feet, quickly releasing a statement calling the compromise “premature.” Now he has again shown indecisiveness, threatening he will back away if senators ease the citizenship path for undocumented immigrants or include equal protection for LGBT immigrants.
Essential presidential traits include decisiveness and compassion. Unfortunately, Rubio is showing neither to the American people, nor Latinos voters. Despite the fact that Leahy is allowing Republican members ample opportunity to be heard, and the fact that Republican amendments have been adopted, Rubio continues to hesitate on an opportunity to finally modernize the country’s outdated immigration system.
These recent stances have cast doubt into Rubio’s Latino base, which has been waiting for him to become a leader that can transform the Republican Party while still being the fiscal conservative who would not squander billions on border security in places where it will be ineffective. An immigration reform that focuses on family reunification for all families that ensures economic prosperity for the country can be achieved this year. Rubio has the opportunity to lead.
Vargas, J.D., is director for the DREAM Action Coalition and national activist for the DREAM Act. Matos, J.D., is co-director of Get Equal.