Florida Republicans speak out on immigration
Following another night of Republican primary candidates battling it out over the topic of immigration, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, speaking at a Hispanic Leadership conference in Miami on Friday, struck a conciliatory tone.
“We must admit that there are those among us that have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and inexcusable,” he told the audience. “And we must admit — myself included — that sometimes we’ve been too slow to condemn that language for what it is.”
Rubio’s 20-minute speech, dedicated almost exclusively to the theme of immigration, reached far beyond the narrow Latino confines of Cuban Miami and was, at its heart, a challenge to his Republican colleagues. “I have challenged the Republican nominees and all Republicans to not just be the anti-illegal immigration party,” he said. “That’s not who we are, that’s not who we should be. We should be the pro-legal immigration party.”
There is “broad bipartisan support” for solutions, such as a guest worker system and speeding up the “complicated and burdensome” process for people to obtain U.S. visas, Rubio said. Though he did not endorse the so-called DREAM Act, he said politicians had to find a way “to accommodate” the students of undocumented immigrants who are shut out of educational benefits such as in-state tuition.
A small group of protesters tried to interrupt Rubio’s speech with shouts of, “Why don’t you support undocumented students?” When security officials moved toward the protesters, who were carrying signs that read “Latino or Tea Partino,” Rubio called out, “I ask that you let them stay because I think they’ll be interested in what I’m going to say.” But the protesters were escorted out.
Echoing the words of one of his political mentors, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Rubio made a personal plea for an American understanding of the immigration phenomenon. Recalling his parents’ own travails when they arrived from Cuba in the late 1950s, he said that most immigrants come to the U.S. looking simply for a better life. “There is no fence high enough; there is no ocean wide enough that most of us would not cross to provide for them what they do not have,” he said. “I hope never again that young people will have to stand up in an event like this and hold up a sign — because the issue’s been taken care of, in one way or another.”
Rubio closed by reading the words of the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved in a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, give me your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
“This is who we were. For 225 years, this is who we’ve been,” he said. “And the question now is, is this who we will remain?
Speaking earlier at the same event in Miami, Bush warned that the Republican party risks losing the November election if it does not adopt a new strategy to appeal to Hispanic voters. “We have seen a diminishing of [Hispanic] votes at a time when, as our demography changes, Republicans need to be much more focused on them,” he said.
Hispanic voters, who represent an important swing vote in several key swing states, such as Florida, are “turned off” by “the ramifications of the Alabama law and other things like that,” Bush said. “So from a practical political view, putting aside the policy, it makes no sense to me that we are sending these signals.”
Photo credit: Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a meeting of the Hispanic Leadership Network in Doral, Florida January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Photo credit: Young men carrying signs to interrupt remarks by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at a meeting of the Hispanic Leadership Network in Doral, Florida, January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper