Sen. Marco Rubio is talking the talk – except at town hall meetings, shamefully, shunning any encounters with, yes, angry constituents – and now it’s time for him to walk the walk.
After President Trump’s address to Congress last week, in which immigration issues took center stage, Rubio, making the media circuit, said that comprehensive immigration reform would be difficult to achieve, but “possible.”
Let’s be clear, making the country’s immigration policies fair and consistent, giving immigrants here illegally a chance to become citizens, while expelling those deemed a threat has always been possible. But, unfortunately, rampant partisanship, scapegoating undocumented immigrants, cynical political calculation – along with political cowardice – made comprehensive immigration reform the longest of long shots.
In 2013, Rubio took the lead, making a persuasive case for reforms and cobbling together the “Gang of Eight.” That was a bipartisan group of lawmakers convinced that Congress could achieve sensible reform to bring 11 million illegal immigrants into the open, unafraid of deportation and with a real chance, if they did all the right things, at citizenship. Ultimately, that effort went nowhere.
That was a different Rubio back then:
“Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gamely stepped up,” the Editorial Board said in 2013. “As a junior senator, he could have dodged the call, but, to his credit, he became the indispensable member of the Gang of Eight because he is Hispanic and conservative. He has come under fire from some of his tea party supporters, but he may gain other supporters through his leadership.”
This was the Rubio the Editorial Board recommended in 2010 – untainted by a hellacious run for president, before “Little Marco” and the whole small-hands thing; before he fell into Chris Christie’s debate trap and came off as too slick by half; before going back on his pledge not to seek reelection to the U.S. Senate, a place he said he didn’t like anyway. Before he said, unconvincingly, that if voters sent him back to the Senate, he could apply the brakes on a runaway President Trump.
This was the Rubio we declined to recommend in 2016.
The immigration landscape has seen dramatic, and Draconian, changes in our post-Jan. 20 world. The president’s new policies to expel undocumented immigrants are not making Americans safer; it’s a cruel and overreaching move that is ensnaring not only those convicted of serious crimes, a miniscule number among the undocumented. It has sown fear among anyone accused of a petty crime – or no crime at all. They are not creating new jobs for Americans, who won’t do the dirty work many illegal immigrants will leap at; and they are being applied with no consistency across the nation. Where many municipalities have gamely refused to have local law-enforcement officers do federal agents’ bidding, others have jumped in.
And in Mississippi, Daniela Vargas, 22 years old and a DREAMer who spoke out against the raids, was arrested and faces deportation. This is especially chilling because even Trump seemed to take a hands-off approach to rounding up young people brought here illegally as children.
If Rubio truly intends to be a check on the president, he will decry these policies and again become a champion for comprehensive immigration reform. For years, his party has said No to reform until enforcement is strengthened and the border is secure.
Well, the former has been realized; the latter – that wall – is still iffy. And if they’re really honest, they will admit that the number of Mexicans living in the United States illegally has declined since 2007.
Only comprehensive immigration reform can impose fairness and common sense on our patchwork of policies.
It is absolutely time for Sen. Rubio to be a leader, not a partisan yes-man. He is uniquely well-positioned to make the case, to his colleagues and President Trump, that it’s time for all of them to walk the walk.