Commentary: What role will Sen. Marco Rubio play in 2012 for GOP?

The Kansas City StarApril 8, 2012 

The GOP is launching its secret weapon.

The one with an ethnic persona and an assumed comfort level with a coveted demographic, along with boyish good looks and tea party credentials for added charm.

Good luck, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. You will need it.

Talk is turning to November, to Mitt Romney’s future. It’s the math, the math.

Sorry, Newt and Rick, but he’s the nominee. And already the talk is turning to who will be his copilot. Those conversations always include Marco Rubio as a possibility, although Rubio himself is quick to demur to any such suggestion.

In nearly the same breath that Rubio endorsed Romney for the nomination, the Cuban-American senator confirmed that he is drafting a GOP-friendly version of the long exiled DREAM Act.

Ay, caramba! Who do you think Republicans are trying to court with that maneuver?

The 21 million Latinos eligible to vote?

DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. The federal DREAM Act has had several iterations over the years, and there have been state bills as well. The main objective has been to allow immigrant children, most of whom have grown up in the United States believing themselves to be American, the opportunity to go to college or enter the military as a means to legal status.

No word yet on exactly what Rubio’s version would propose. He has discussed a version of the DREAM Act that would allow legalization, but not a path to citizenship.

That’s a recipe for permanent limbo for these immigrant kids. And it’s not likely to fly with Democrats. According to The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke to Hispanic business leaders recently, warning them not to be fooled by shallow outreach efforts by Republicans, specifically mentioning the possibility of a weakened DREAM Act.

“While you’re here in town, don’t take the bait that will be given to you by my Republican friends,” Reid reportedly said.

Used to be, back before the GOP threw common sense to the wind and adopted a harsh view on anything tinged by immigration, many Republicans backed the DREAM Act. They realized that these children didn’t uproot themselves from native lands and enter the U.S. without legal paperwork. Their parents made those choices. Why punish the children when they are eager to be college-educated, tax-paying additions to the U.S. economy?

That’s no longer a rhetorical question. The answer is: because the tea party says you should.

So Rubio, in his first task to prove what he can do for the GOP, is going to set this ship upright? Good luck, senator. You will need it.

There’s not a lot of reason to trust Rubio on this issue. He denounced an earlier version of the federal DREAM Act as an “amnesty.” Changing his tune now will look like flip-flopping. And that might just entrench Latino voters’ mistrust of the GOP.

Romney’s camp might see Rubio as a natural ally to Latino voters. Maybe someone should tell them.

Rubio is Cuban-American, the son of exiles (although his parents arrived two years before Castro took power). Many Cubans have a completely different relationship with immigration issues than other Hispanics in the U.S. When you flee a dictator that the U.S. government considers a foe, legal status can be obtained as a refugee.

The vast majority of Hispanics who come to the U.S. are of Mexican or Central American origin. That’s not a deal they get from our government.

Another twist is that Latino voters don’t rank immigration policy among the most important issues. They are concerned mostly about employment, education, jobs — the range of issues that most voters find important.

Still, if Rubio gets behind a strong and equitable version of the DREAM Act, he can help a small but important number of immigrants whose status should have been resolved long ago. These students’ futures never should have been become a political football.

Maybe Rubio can be the voice that brings reason to the GOP.

Good luck, Sen. Rubio. You will need it.

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