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Marco Rubio's Evolution on Immigration Reform

10:35 AM, Feb 5, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Not too long ago, Florida senator Marco Rubio seemed like a very unlikely candidate to spearhead an immigration reform effort alongside the likes of John McCain and Chuck Schumer. "The most important thing we need to do is enforce our existing laws," Rubio said in a 2009 interview with Javier Manjarres. "I am not, and I will never support any effort to grant blanket legalization/amnesty to folks who have entered, stayed in this country illegally."

Marco Antonio Rubio

A year later, in a Senate debate with Charlie Crist, Rubio criticized the Florida governor for backing the 2007 McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. "He would have voted for the McCain plan," Rubio said. "I think that plan is wrong, and the reason I think it’s wrong is that if you grant amnesty, as the governor proposes that we do, in any form, whether it's back of the line or so forth, you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America."

And in an October 2010 debate with Crist, Rubio was asked by the moderator, "So your plan is that you're going to close the borders, get the electronic system, fix the legal system, and then do what?"

"And then you'll have a legal immigration system that works," Rubio said. "And you'll have people in this country that are without documents that will be able to return to the -- will be able to leave this country, return to their homeland, and try to re-enter through our system that now functions, a system that makes sense…Earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty."

But last week, Rubio endorsed a bipartisan proposal to normalize the status of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country and open up an earned path to citizenship for them. In a phone interview Monday, I asked Rubio why he changed his mind on the issue. His answer was that he really hasn't changed much at all. Here's the transcript Rubio's conversation with THE WEEKLY STANDARD (lightly edited for clarity and space):

Q: Three or four years ago, when you were running for Senate, we talked about this issue, and you seemed opposed to any bill that would legalize the status of illegal immigrants. Do you agree that your thinking on this issue has changed? And if so, when and why did it shift?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I think my position has consistently been a couple things. Number one that we’re not going to create a special pathway to citizenship that disadvantages people that are doing it the right way or that encourages people to come here illegally in the future.

And the second thing that I’ve made very clear is that we’re not going to round up 11 million people. We’re not going to grant a blanket amnesty to 11 million people. And the solution lies somewhere in between those two.

In the past I really haven’t really had a specific response to address that. And obviously I spent time learning about this issue and talking to others. If you look at what we propose now in these principles, there’s been a lot of noise made about amnesty and things like that. But the reality of it is the only thing these folks are earning is the chance to apply for a green card just like everybody else does. They’re not getting anything different than anybody else would get…

The only thing they’re going to get is the chance to apply for a green card, just like they would if they went back to their nation of birth and waited 10 years. So, we’re not creating a special visa for them.

Q: In 2009, in one interview you said that ‘nothing will make it harder to enforce the existing laws if you reward the people who broke them,’ and 'I’ll never support an effort to grant blanket legalization/amnesty to folks who’ve entered illegally and stayed here.’ So you think that your position isn’t inconsistent with your past remarks at all?

RUBIO: No, again, the legalization that they’re getting is a temporary work permit that in no way disadvantages the people who are trying to come here permanently the right way. The people trying to come here permanently the right way are applying for a green card, and there isn’t a single person—none of these people who have illegally entered the country would get a green card before someone who is doing it legally before them would get one.

Q: What are the benefits of having a green card versus the temporary probationary status that would be granted immediately?

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