Given a hypothetical do-over on the Gang of Eight bill, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Friday he would push the same policies today, changing only the approach to implementing them.
Although he emphasized securing the border in the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill he sponsored, which he is still heavily criticized for, Rubio now says the border must be secured before any push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Asked at the National Review Institute what he would change, Rubio said he was right in predicting that failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill would result in executive action from President Barack Obama.
The actions Obama has taken to grant legal status to millions of immigrants, combined with the the influx of Central American children crossing the southern border have made it clear border security must come first, Rubio said. (RELATED: Where Cruz Stands With Rubio Against Walker On Immigration Reform)
“Securing the border” first is the stated priority of all the top GOP contenders, and Rubio adopting the language does not mark any substantive change in his position on immigration policy.
Rubio reiterated his position Friday that the system should be reformed, based on economic realities, to prioritize skilled workers over those with family ties, so the top talent in the world is incentivized to come and not only work in the U.S., but also become citizens.
The Gang of Eight bill would have significantly increased the number of immigrants and foreign workers allowed into the country, and given a path to legal status for those already here illegally.
The U.S. currently allows one million immigrants and about 700,000 guest workers into the country annually. The Census Bureau recently projected the foreign born population (legal and illegal immigrants) will hit 51 million by 2023 — the largest share of total population ever recorded in American history.
Under the Gang of Eight Bill that population would have grown at the fastest rate in American history, hitting a record high of 15 percent of the population by 2020, or one in seven Americans, according to an analysis of Congressional Budget Office numbers by the Center For Immigration Studies, a research group that favors low immigration numbers.
Rubio is currently sponsoring a big business-backed bill that would triple the number of H-1B visas (for high-skilled workers) and allow for a virtually unlimited number of university-based green cards.
Asked about the challenge of assimilating the huge numbers of immigrants coming into the country, he acknowledged the struggle, but said it’s also difficult to assimilate people born here and pivoted to his larger message that America is a special country.
“We have a challenge in this country assimilating people who are born and raised here too,” he said. “We’ve got tests in our own schools that teach that America’s not special, and I think that’s a big problem.”
On illegal immigration, Rubio said we must be “reasonable” about the problem posed by illegal immigrants already in the country, and that after “securing the border” and “modernizing” the legal immigration system, he would grant them a path to citizenship.
Those here a decade or more would have to undergo a strict background check, pay a fine, start paying taxes and learn English to earn permanent legal status, he said. Eventually they could “get in line” and apply for citizenship under the same rules as everyone else.
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