NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Ahead of a possible 2016 presidential run, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio walked back past immigration reform work and talked up border enforcement at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday.
Rubio didn’t bring up immigration or President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty during his address, but was pressed on the issue by Fox News host Sean Hannity during a Q&A segment afterward.
The potential 2016 candidate told Hannity that “the single biggest lesson” of the past two years is that the surge at the border needs to be contained before illegal immigration can truly be dealt with in America. Following his election to the Senate in 2010, Rubio joined with Democratic senators in supporting the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill.
“Well it wasn’t very popular. I don’t know if you know that from some of the folks here,” Rubio said acknowledging his political misstep. “Here’s the thing: it’s a serious problem that has to be confronted. It does. We don’t have the mechanisms in place to enforce some of our immigration laws.
“We don’t have an E-Verify system. Forty percent of illegal immigrants come legally and overstay their visas. We don’t know who they are. We have to put that in place,” the Florida senator continued. “There are at least three sectors of the border, one in particular, that are that are completely insecure. It needs more fencing, it needs patrols — that stuff has to get done.”
“We also have a legal immigration system that’s the most generous in the world. A million people a year come here illegally, no other country comes close to that, but it’s all based on whether you have a family member here. And it can’t continue to be based on family alone. It has to be based on some sort of merit or economic contribution,” Rubio said, drawing applause. “That has to be dealt with as well.”
“And yeah, you have 10 to 12 million people in this country, many of whom have lived here, some for longer than a decade, who have not broken any immigration laws, I get all that,” he continued. “But what I’ve learned is that you can’t even have a conversation about that until people believe and know — not just believe, but proven to them — that future illegal immigration can be controlled and brought under control. That is the single biggest lesson of the last two years.”