“It is clear that his own party [supporters] believes strongly in enforcement, [and] if he just agree to fig leaves of enforcement, it will cost him politically in the long term,” said one reform advocate.
Mainstream opposition to the amnesty of guest-worker plans stopped previous immigration rewrites in 2006 and 2007, deeply damaged McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and could derail any presidential run by Rubio, said the advocate.
“Working-class, lunch-pail folks want the law enforced, and Republicans have had a lot of trouble get those voters out” in 2008 and 2012, he added. (RELATED: Anti-immigration group says polls showing support for immigration reform are all wrong)
Even if Rubio was able to use a pro-immigration deal to boost his Latino support from Gov. Mitt Romney’s 27 percent up to 34 percent, his gains would be entirely offset by a mere 1.5 percent drop in the turnout of GOP voters, he said.
The three groups’ ability to rally the GOP voters against Rubio is also complemented by their ability to help him win a good deal that will aid his career, he said. By boosting calls for proper enforcement, they can help Rubio push Democrats to accept a tough deal, such as a so-called “trigger’ that delays the award of work-permits and green cards to illegal immigrants until the revamped enforcement system has proven itself, he said.
So far, “Rubio has it half right” by emphasizing enforcement, said Dane. But “if the GOP really wants to repair their party, they can revitalize it by opposing amnesty and shifting our massive legal-immigration system to a skill-based one,” rather than system which brings in low-skilled people benefiting from government transfers, he said.
But the groups’ distant cooperation with Rubio is complicated by Rubio’s allies and aides.
Rubio’s allies include many business GOP groups, including the extensive network of advocates that have rallied around former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush.
Lopez is also part of that extended network. His website features a testimonial from Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, who is expected to soon run for office in Texas.
Rubio’s chief of staff, Cesar Conda, is also part of the network.
Conda served in President George W. Bush’s White House, but also worked as an advocate for the immigration lawyers’ association.
As a founding partner of a lobbying firm, Navigators Global, he attended a 2003 meeting in the White House to promote a policy favored by the lawyers’ group, which stands to gain enormously from any law that expands or complicates immigration law.
In the late 1990s, Conda also worked as the legislative director for one-term GOP Sen. Spencer Abraham. In 2000, Abraham lost his Michigan Senate seat after NumbersUSA highlighted Abraham’s role in defeating a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have curbed legal and illegal immigration.
During that 1996 immigration debate, Abraham opposed an employee-identification plan in the bill that would have required and helped employers reject applicants who were not allowed to legally work in the United States.
Conant declined to talk about Conda’s prior work.
“Given Sen. Rubio’s role in a smear campaign against pro-enforcement groups,” said Steve Camarota, the research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, “it does raise the question of how serious he is about enforcement.”