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Marco Rubio's Evolution on Immigration Reform

10:35 AM, Feb 5, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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RUBIO: First of all, a green card is a permanent status in the United States. A green card means that 5 years after you get one, you can apply for citizenship. A green card means you qualify for any and every, you know, federal benefit that’s available to you. A temporary status is more akin to one of these work visas that people get. It has to be renewed. You have to meet the qualifications of it each time you renew it. It does not allow you to apply—you cannot convert it or adjust it into a permanent status. And you do not qualify for any federal assistance. You’re basically a long-term visitor to the United States as opposed to a permanent resident of the United States.

Q: Last week, Senator Schumer said that ‘on day one of our bill, people without status who are not criminals or security risks will be able to live and work here immediately.’ Is that accurate? A lot of conservatives saw that and said, that looks a lot like amnesty.

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I think that was an exaggeration. I mean, clearly there’s a process in place and people would have to apply for. And the idea that people could undergo background checks, pay fines, pay back taxes, and do all these other things in one day is [inaudible]. I think the bigger question is whether the security measures should happen before the legalization process happens.

That’s kind of the recurring argument, that even before the work permit process begins, there have to be security measures in place, particularly the border….

Q: Would some enforcement triggers have to take effect before any legalization happens, and then others would have to take effect before the green card process opens up?

RUBIO: My original position, when I first started looking at this, is let’s do the enforcement and the modernization of the systems first and when all that is in place, then we can start the work-permit process. The argument against that is that if people know that in the future you’re going to be giving out work permits to people who are here, that gives people incentive to people who are here to overstay their visas or for people to try to get in.

If the word gets out that in a couple years when the border is secured we’re going to be giving work permits to people who are undocumented, that creates an incentive for people to rush in and get here before that happens.

What we ultimately settled on is we wanted to freeze the numbers we have now before the problem got worse. And the way you do that is bringing people out right now and saying from this point forward this will not be available to anybody else. But I think there’s going to be an effort to argue that even the legalization process should wait until the enforcement measures are put in place. I’m already hearing that being argued by some.

Q: The Gang of 8 framework also endorsed a guest-worker program that requires employers to prove they first tried to hire an American before they employ a foreign guest worker. How would an employer prove that? Post a job and wait for a couple weeks?

RUBIO: There are details that have to be worked out, and that’s what the legislative process is for. … We want a guest worker program, but not one that hurts American workers that are here now. What we can do in law and how we can create that program is something we're going to have to talk to people that know about this to figure out the details.

Q: The framework doesn’t specify what the fine should be for the path to a green card and citizenship. Should that be in the hundreds of dollars? Thousands?

RUBIO: Details like how long they have to wait in line, how much they’re going to have to pay, all of that’s going to be open to debate. All of that’s going to be open to suggestion. It’s going to take some time to arrive there. It has to be substantial. But it also can’t be unrealistic. That’s the important balance that we’re going to have to work out.

Q: Under the 1986 immigration reform, there were supposed to be enforcement mechanisms there too, but it never ended up working. What lessons have you learned from that? And why will it work out any better this time?

RUBIO: Well, number one I think we have measures available to us that didn’t exist back then. For example, workable workplace enforcement mechanisms—a way to verify the people being hired are legally here—is probably technologically easier to do today than it was back then. The ability to track the entry and exit of the visas, visitor visas, how many people are coming here as tourists—we have better technology available to us. And even at the border, from the construction of a fence to all the other things that supplement that, we have things available to us that weren’t available back then.

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