Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blasted both parties on the politicization of immigration reform in a withering speech on Friday to Hispanic leaders.
“Why is this issue simplified? I’ll tell you right now, it’s powerful politics,” Rubio said, adding that politicians “want it to stay unresolved because it makes it easier to influence elections and easier to raise money.”
The Cuban lawmaker was at the nexus of the immigration reform battle, putting aside his work on a GOP-version of the DREAM Act after President Obama announced a change in deportment policy regarding illegal immigrates brought to the United States as children.
The Hispanic vote will be a critical bloc in November's election, with Latinos making up large portions of the population in critical swing states like Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
Immigration reform has taken center stage in election-year politics since Obama’s announcement last Friday. Mitt Romney offered his own plan in his speech to NALEO on Thursday. Obama addresses the group later on Friday.
Rubio, however, later acknowledged that there was no easy solution for the two parties to come together on, and that when he arrived in Washington, he realized that a lot of members of Congress "have been burned" on the issue in the past.
"We talked about the kids, what about everybody else? Here’s the truth: if we’re going to be honest with ourselves – we don’t know yet,” the freshman senator said, adding “we’re not going to round up and deport 12 million people” but the United States also “can’t give them amnesty either.”
Rubio started off his speech saying he originally intended to talk about the economy and to “rip into the policies of the president,” but “abandoned” that line of attack because it would seem like he was participating in the same cynicism he was decrying.
Still, the Florida senator — who's being vetted for GOP vice presidential pick, according to Romney — took some subtle jabs at Obama.
“I was tempted to come here and rip into the policies of the president ... I was tempted to ask you why he hasn’t been here in three years, and yet here he is now that it’s an election year,” Rubio said. “But if I did, I’d be doing the exact same thing that I just criticized.”
Rubio hasn’t criticized Obama's directive, but expressed frustration that the media and politicians talk about it as a "tactical move" in regard to what it means “for the election.”
The Romney campaign seemed caught off guard by the Obama announcement and took a few days to respond. On Thursday, Romney pledged to provide permanent residency for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and graduate from college, a shift from his position during the GOP primaries.
During the speech Romney declined to say whether he would reverse Obama's order, saying instead that he would put in place his own "long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."