Rubio and his 'non-criminal' illegal aliens
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On the Jan. 17 edition of "Meet the Press," presidential candidate Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE (R-Fla.) was quizzed about his immigration proposal. He explained: "If you're a criminal alien, no, you can't stay. If you're someone that hasn't been here for a very long time, you can't stay."

Host Chuck Todd interjected, "Define 'criminal alien.'"

Rubio responded: "A felon. ... [S]omeone who's committed a crime, a non-immigration-related — and that's what I've talked about in the past. ... I don't think you're gonna round up and deport 12 million people."

This response indicates that the way Rubio approaches immigration and amnesty is not all that different from President Obama, who has made it policy to largely focus on only the worst of the worst when it comes to deportation. The president's policies have made violence a virtual prerequisite for deportation, as most immigration violations are given a pass.

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Americans shouldn't have to be victimized for our immigration laws to mean something. Yet this is precisely how the Obama administration operates — and presumably how a Rubio administration would operate. The former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement explained to the Los Angeles Times that "If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it's just highly unlikely to happen."

So what does Rubio mean by "a felon"? Does he mean that an illegal alien must be arrested, prosecuted and found guilty of a felony in a court of law before he or she faces deportation? It seems so. And that's only after he or she presumably serves any jail sentence for the felony at an additional cost to taxpayers. Wouldn't it make more sense to remove an illegal alien at the first possible opportunity, simply because of illegal immigration status? Immigration law doesn't require an additional act of violence for it to be enforced.

There's a key problem with Rubio's position: Most illegal aliens are not being prosecuted for their so-called "non-immigration" crimes. For example, most working illegal aliens are using false documents and/or engaging in identity theft at their jobs. These crimes create real victims. But the Obama administration has chosen not to go after illegal aliens for these crimes, making most illegal aliens appear "otherwise law-abiding."

For example, the president's controversial deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program requires illegal aliens to fill out an "Application for Employment Authorization" (an I-765 Form) so they can get work documents. Under the Social Security Number (SSN) section, the form requires applicants to "include all numbers you have ever used." When DACA was being rolled out, many of the applicants (and the lawyers representing them) went apoplectic after logically assuming that this required the illegal alien to list any SSNs they had previously illegally used in acquiring a job or government benefit, numbers that may belong to legal residents. In other words, the application seemed to require applicants to admit to ID fraud, ID theft and potentially, other crimes.

But the Obama administration assured illegal aliens applying for DACA status that they do not have to list all numbers they have used illegally. The interests of American citizen victims took a backseat to the interests of crime-committing illegal aliens. Because these individuals have not been prosecuted for these crimes, Rubio would likely consider them to be "non-criminal" and argue that they should remain the United States.

What Rubio doesn't seem to realize — or is hoping voters won't realize — is that he is basing his position on whether a person should be deported on whether or not the Obama administration has decided to prosecute the person. That's a pretty poor standard. We estimate that around 7 million to 8 million illegal aliens are holding jobs and that around half of them are working on the books (meaning they're using Social Security numbers that do not belong to them). Instead of prosecuting them, the Obama administration is giving them work permits and legitimate Social Security accounts through DACA.

In my report titled "The Myth of the 'Otherwise Law-Abiding' Illegal Alien," I list dozens of statutes the average, nonviolent illegal alien may be violating, some of which can be felonies. Since most are "non-immigration-related" as Rubio puts it — for example, anyone can commit aggravated identity theft (18 U.S. Code § 1028A) — one must wonder whether Rubio would consider violation of this statute by an illegal alien in the course of illegal entry to be "immigration-related" and therefore not a felony for purposes of immigration law enforcement. Or, looking at "False Personation of a U.S. Citizen" (18 U.S. Code § 911) — something that can be prosecuted as a felony — would Rubio consider this to be an "immigration-related" violation (i.e., the illegal alien just really wanted to be a citizen!) and therefore not enough to lead to deportation? And what about statues like "Willful Failure or Refusal to Depart" (8 U.S. Code § 1253), violated by illegal aliens who have already been ordered to leave the country? This is one of those immigration-related statutes that Rubio wants to ignore?

When presidential candidates start to promise nonenforcement of immigration laws based on political considerations, things get complicated very quickly. And when did it become legitimate for politicians to give lawbreaking foreigners a pass for their crimes anyhow?

Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.