Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioAt CPAC, Trump lashes out at media Conquering Trump returns to conservative summit Rubio brushes off demonstrator asking about town halls MORE (R-Fla.) declared Thursday that “people will have to be deported” before Congress can move forward on immigration reform.
Rubio, whose past support for comprehensive immigration reform has been in the spotlight as he’s risen in the GOP primary polls, said Americans would be skeptical of any attempts to revisit reform until the nation shows it’s committed to enforcing current laws.
Still, Rubio criticized those who advocate deporting all of those in the country illegally, saying it’s not possible.
“The flipside of it is, I do not believe you can round up and deport 11 million people, especially people who have been here 15 years, have not otherwise violated the law, can pass background checks and so forth,” he said. “There’s got to be a process to deal with that realistically.”
In 2013, Rubio worked on the “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill, but he walked away as it became politically problematic, declaring the bill didn’t do enough for border security and that Democrats couldn’t be trusted on the issue.
Rubio has been dealing with blowback from conservative immigration hawks ever since, and needs to convince Republicans that he can be trusted on the issue.
Rubio’s complicated history with immigration reform is in the spotlight now, as he’s increased his standing in the polls and come under fire from some of his rivals, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for his past work on the Gang of Eight bill.
“It is not complicated, that on the seminal fight over amnesty in Congress, the Gang of Eight bill that was the brainchild of Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama, that would have granted amnesty to 12 million people here illegally, that I stood with the American people and led the fight to defeat it in the United States Congress,” Cruz told reporters in New Hampshire on Wednesday, according to The Washington Post.
“In my view, if Republicans nominate for president a candidate who supports amnesty, we will have given up one of the major distinctions with Hillary Clinton and we will lose the general election,” Cruz continued. “That is a path to losing.”
Rubio does not support blanket “amnesty,” as many conservatives view it, but rather supports a pathway to legal status for some in the country illegally if they meet an arduous set of requirements.
On Thursday, he insisted that he’s not seeking to straddle the “middle line” on the issue.
“It’s not about a middle line, it’s about reality,” he said. “People will have to be deported, there’s no doubt about it. But we also have to deal realistically with the fact that we have 12 or 13 million people or whatever the number is.”
Rubio said that before any legal status is considered, the U.S. first has to “prove to people that illegal immigration is under control” by securing the border and deporting some offenders, and then “modernize the legal immigration system to make it merit-based and not family-based anymore.”
“If you do those two things, I actually think the American people are gong to be very reasonable about how to deal with someone who has been here 15 years, is not otherwise violating the law, learns English, pays a fine, starts paying taxes, and is gainfully employed,” Rubio said.
“But you can’t get to that stage until you do these other two things. So yes, there will be people who will have to be deported.”