Rubio dodges immigration controversy at CPAC

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio won loud applause for his speech at the first day of the CPAC meeting, but he carefully avoided mentioning his controversial effort to rewrite the nation’s immigration law.

“I do think it is interesting, and telling, that he didn’t mention immigration,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, which wants to reduce the current immigration level of 1 million people per year.

During his short speech, Rubio urged conservatives to focus on the worries of blue collar and middle class Americans..

Rubio called for a new focus on students’ debts, which have grown past $1 trillion as Americans fail to find jobs that match their expensively-earned qualifications. He also called for continued attention to overseas problems, highlighted his pro-life beliefs and celebrated marriage in the face of progressive efforts to reshape it,  earning support from groups that he will need if he runs for the the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016.

However, the speech’s contents “completely conflicts with his [immigration] plans,” said Jenks.

“You can’t grow the middle class when you’re flooding the low-skill labor market and keeping workers impoverished,” she told The Daily Caller. “The only thing that grows is big business profits and the entitlement system.”

Those plans include the award of both work permits to at least 11 million low-skill illegal immigrants, and many work visas to high-skilled and low-skilled workers sought by businesses.

Numerous polls show the amnesty and guest-worker measures are unpopular among Americans, and very unpopular among GOP supporters. (RELATED: Immigration group says polls are all wrong)

A February poll by Reuters and Ipsos showed that 53 percent of Americans believe that all or most illegal immigrants should be deported, not given amnesty. Only 5 percent wanted all immigrants to be allowed to stay, while 31 percent said most immigrants should stay.

Democratic-voting union members are also deeply opposed to new immigration. (RELATED: Is there a split between union bosses and members on immigration?)

By avoiding any mention of immigration, Rubio “is trying to walk a fine line and hoping not to alienate” his GOP supporters or political allies who want large-scale immigration, said Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Rubio’s “silence on immigration is part of his effort to avoid such alienation,” said Krikorian.

Elsewhere at the CPAC meeting, a speakers’ panel comprised of immigration-supporters earned only tepid applause, Jenks said.

“About the only applause line was when [Rep. Raul] Labrador said we shouldn’t give illegal aliens a path to citizenship,” she added.

But that the balancing act will become more difficult once the immigration bill is released, likely in early April, Krikorian said.

“We’ll see over the next month whether he decides he has to walk away from Schumer’s amnesty plan to maintain his viability with conservative voters,” he added.

Rubio’s spokesman scoffed at the criticism.

“He talks about immigration all the time — including on a ton of conservative radio shows,” spokesman Alex Conant told TheDC. “And he’s going to be talking about it a lot in coming weeks as the Senate group finalizes its proposal.”

At the start of his speech, Rubio did allude to the recent wave of immigration that has increased the foreign born population, which now comprises roughly one in eight Americans.

There is “a fear that America has changed, that our people has changed, that we have too many people that want too much from government,” he said. “That’s not true. Our people have not changed. The vast majority of the American people are hard working taxpayers, take care of their families … [and] go to work every day.”

After the speech, his office tweeted out one of Rubio’s applause lines — “’We Don’t Need a New Idea. The Idea Is America & It Still Works” — that may be interpreted as an endorsement of American-style immigration and integration.

Despite — or perhaps because of — Rubio’s decision to not mention immigration, the speech received much applause from a sympathetic crowd.

Overall, “aside from immigration … I thought it was a good speech,” said Krikorian, who added that he was speaking as citizen, not as a director of his immigration center.

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