This week, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) became the latest candidate to announce his 2016 presidential bid, which he did from the Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida. Known as the Ellis Island of the South, Freedom Tower served Cuban refugees seeking political asylum from 1962-1974 and his presence there sought to highlight his immigrant roots, his parents’ journey from Cuba in the 1950s and their ability to achieve the American Dream. Yet, based on his legislative history and public statements, it’s difficult to determine which policies a President Rubio would advocate for.

In his campaign launch speech, Sen. Rubio credited America’s welcoming immigration policy towards Cuba with granting his family access to the American Dream:

“When they were young, my parents had big dreams for themselves. But because they were not born into wealth or power, their future was destined to be defined by their past. So in 1956 they came here, to the one place on earth where the aspirations of people like them could be more than just dreams.”

Yet, other than the nod to the power of immigration in his speech, his campaign website does little to outline which immigration policies he will champion as President. His track record in the Senate varies between championing passage of S. 744, a comprehensive immigration reform bill, to subsequent statements where he advocated for costly and ineffective enforcement-first measures before other reforms to our U.S. immigration system.

Sen. Rubio was part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” which created the framework for the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” or S. 744. This bill included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and expanded border security measures. Sen. Rubio strongly advocated for the bill and explained to critics who viewed the bill as amnesty that “this is not ‘amnesty.’ ‘Amnesty’ is the forgiveness of something. ‘Amnesty’ is anything that says ‘do it illegally, it’ll be cheaper and easier.’”

When it became evident that Speaker John Boehner had no intention of bringing this bill to a vote, and Sen. Rubio received criticism for his role in passing S. 744, he began to pivot towards a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. In an August 2014 interview with Fox News Sunday, he said:

“I’ve been dealing with this issue now for the better part of 18 months and I know now more than ever that if you are in favor of immigration reform, then we have to reevaluate the process by which we achieve it… We will never have the votes necessary to pass a one, in one bill, all of those things. It just won’t happen.”

He then went even further away from comprehensive reform, emphasizing border security bills must come first:

 “The only way you’re going to be able to deal with this issue is by first securing the border and ensuring that illegal immigration is under control.”

Sen. Rubio’s remarks ignored reports that show enforcement-first policies alone have not and will not curb undocumented immigration. In an interview with Fox News on April 14, 2015 he continued down that same path, stating he still supports a path to legalization after the flow of undocumented immigration has been halted:

“No. I think we need to–we still need to do immigration reform…. Again, I think that if you’re in this country and you violated our immigration laws, you should be able–after we’ve proven that illegal immigration’s not going to happen in the future, that we have systems in place to keep that from happening, you have to come forward, undergo a background check, pay a fine, start paying taxes.”

He also told Fox that he continues to support a path to citizenship:

“I know that there are people out there that say, no, they should only have the work permit for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea, but if that’s the only way we can move forward on it, I would explore it.”

While his positions on immigration policy seem to be changing over time, hopefully his campaign’s promise of a “new American century” will include immigration policies that both respond to American’s changing economic needs and that offer the same respect and promise to today’s immigrants that were afforded the Rubio family in the 1950s.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

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