Sen. Marco Rubio blocked numerous immigration-enforcement bills when he served as speaker in the Florida House of Representatives from 2007 to 2009.
“Rubio blocked any efforts to deal with the problems of illegal immigration on the local or state level,” one former politician from South Florida, who has known Rubio since his city councilman days in West Miami, told The Daily Caller.
“He said it was because we had bigger things to deal with on the state level. Maybe that’s true. But he didn’t even let bills to the floor when they sailed through committees,” the politician, who declined to speak on the record, added.
Rubio’s record is relevant now because he’s presented himself as a moderate backer for the Democratic-led “Gang of Eight” immigration bill. Proponents of the bill argue that its extensive loosening of immigration laws (including a “pathway to citizenship” that Rubio in 2010 described as “basically code for amnesty”) will be balanced by tougher enforcement.
But the record shows that Rubio used his power in Florida to block popular immigration-enforcement bills prior to his election-trail conversion into an immigration-hawk.
In the 2010 race, he criticized one of his opponents, Gov. Charlie Crist, for backing the amnesty proposal developed by Sen. John McCain and Ted Kennedy in 2006 and 2007.
“He would have voted for the McCain plan,” Rubio said. “I think that plan is wrong, and the reason I think it’s wrong is that if you grant amnesty … you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America,’ he said.
In 2007 and 2008, Rubio repeatedly kept tough reform bills from getting passed, despite a wave of public support for reforms.
Numerous enforcement proposals – ranging from bills requiring employers to check the status of workers to others mandating increased cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration agencies – were blocked by Rubio even though they cleared bipartisan committees.
The bills in Florida’s Legislature would have penalized farmers and government contractors caught hiring undocumented workers; placed stricter regulations on public benefits; and required local police to notify federal authorities after arresting illegal immigrants.
Rubio also stopped bills from coming to the floor that would have deported illegal immigrants in state prisons and that would have denied food stamps to illegal immigrants.
He even stopped a bipartisan proposal that would have allowed the deportation of about 5,000 illegal immigrants in Florida prisons, provided they had served half their sentence and agreed to be deported. Similar legislation saved $141 million and $13 million in prison costs in New York and Arizona.
To stop the bill, Rubio scheduled a “workshop” on immigration policy, even though the bill was supported by House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R- Boca Raton.
The most comprehensive bill proposed in Florida was modeled after a package adopted in Oklahoma in 2007. The bill, filed by Republican State Rep. Don Brown of DeFuniak Springs, would have stopped businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and required law enforcement to determine legal status of those arrested for drunk driving or boating.
Brown also wanted to pass a law banning so-called sanctuary cities in the Sunshine State.
“I don’t know who is blocking it, but they’re doing the public a disservice,” Brown told the Sun-Sentinel on April 2008.
A bill by Republican State Rep. Gayle Harrell to prohibit municipal, county, or state money from establishing day-labor centers “never saw the light of day” because of Marco Rubio, Harrell told the Tampa Tribune’s Highlands Today paper.
In 2007, state legislatures passed 240 bills related to immigration – a threefold increase over 2006, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Two states – Arizona and Oklahoma – required employers to verify the legal status of their workers while other states passed laws requiring verification of work force for companies that receive government contractors or subsidies. Other states tightened identification laws and made sure only legal residents could get public benefits.
Rubio did not support any of these measures and became a target of groups like Border Control Now, which aired an Internet ad accusing him of blocking the illegal immigration bills, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Media outlets noted Rubio’s lack of interest in immigration reform.
“Top leaders in state government are not showing much support, either. Gov. Charlie Crist and House Speaker Marco Rubio, who have been at odds on many issues, have shown no signs of pushing tougher immigration laws,” The Ledger reported in Feb. 2008.
One cause for Rubio’s opposition was his alliance with the state’s just-departed Governor, Jeb Bush, who left office in 2007.
Bush didn’t want the issue talked about again after a “politically disastrous” decision [in 2004] to try to give drivers licenses to illegal immigrants,” the former politician told TheDC.
“Marco is Jeb’s boy on immigration,” he added.
Even Democrats noted how reluctant Rubio was to take up the popular reform bills.
“For some people this is a real winner, but for a lot of Republicans in this state, immigration is not a real winner,” said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota. “I just don’t know if this is an issue the Speaker and some of his closest allies want to see debated on the floor of the House.”
The issue got heated in Tallahassee.
Rubio criticized Brown for sending an “offensive” and “bad taste” cartoon to fellow state legislators with the tag line, “Don’t forget to pay your taxes on April 15. 12 million illegal aliens are counting on you.” Harrell took offense at protestors and fellow legislators calling her anti-Hispanic. “I speak Spanish,” Harrell told a local newspaper in 2008. “I have a masters degree in Latin American history. I’m not anti-Hispanic. I’m anti-illegals.”
But Rubio had some Republican allies who supported his blocking of the reform bills.
State Rep. David Rivera criticized reformers, and said the illegal immigrants “doing the jobs that not many other people are willing to do. They are being nannies…they are the ones picking vegetables…the ones cleaning toilets and bedrooms in hotels.”
Rivera went on to tell Florida’s Ledger newspaper, “The agriculture and construction and hospitality industries in Florida would collapse without undocumented immigrants.” He went on to say, “The prospects for success for these types of proposals are dim,” even though polls showed strong support for reform.
Rivera is often described as Rubio’s mentor and the two Cuban-American pols owned a foreclosed home together in North Florida. Rivera was defeated in 2012 for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives and, according to the Miami Herald, is currently under investigation by the FBI.
Rubio’s office did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment.