This Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory repeatedly asked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to give him specifics on his version of the Dream Act, which he abandoned earlier this month after President Obama announced the his new policy halting deportation hearings for those who would have been affected by the Dream Act had it passed.
Just as in his previous interviews, Rubio insisted that insisted that "complicated issues require careful solutions," blamed President Obama for the fact that there's probably no chance in hell Rubio would get his legislation past his own caucus and they didn't want to do anything to encourage illegal immigration.
It's fairly obvious why Rubio didn't want to answer David Gregory's questions on whether immigrants should have to “go home” first before being allowed a path to citizenship in the United States. Rubio, like their presidential candidate Mitt Romney is now trying to thread the needle between not alienating their xenophobic base and not further alienating the Hispanic community with their overly harsh rhetoric on immigration and Romney's past statements about self-deportation. I don't think it's going to do them much good since there's nothing Mitt Romney can do to make those video recordings go away with the statements he's during both this and his last presidential campaign.
Transcript below the fold.
DAVID GREGORY: Well, here's the big issue. You know? And I know you grapple with this. You do in the book, as well. We have up to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. What are we going to do with those immigrants if we want to crack down on illegal immigration? In your view of the world, can any illegal immigrant become legal in the United States without first going home?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well again, that's the complexity of this issue. And as I outlined in the book, and I've talked about repeatedly in recent days, immigration is not a black or white issue. It's not a yes or a no issue. It is complicated because it has a deep human element. These are human beings who find themselves here undocumented. But, for the vast majority of them, they're here in search of a better life and opportunities for their children.
On the other hand, the United States can't be the only country in the world that doesn't enforce its immigration laws. In fact, the United States today is the most generous country in the world on immigration. A million people a year come here legally. There's no other country in the world that comes close to that. So your question goes to what do we do with the folks that are here now?
DAVID GREGORY: All right. So what's the answer?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, the answer is threefold. Number one is we've got to win the confidence of the American people. It's a sequential approach. You can't just say, "We're going to deal with the 12 million people right up front." First, you've got to win the confidence of the American people that the federal government is serious about enforcing our immigration laws. And that's why I think border security and e-verify are so important.
DAVID GREGORY: Well, deportations are up under President Obama. You said he's dropped the ball.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: But it's not about just deportation, it's about enforcing the law. For example, an electronic verification system where employers have the security of knowing that the people they hire are legally here, protects the American worker. And by the way, is good for the immigrant, so they're not being exploited.
All to the border security element, which has improved. It has improved. But it needs to continue to improve. Then I think we need to modernize. The second step is to modernize our legal immigration system. One of the things we don't talk about enough is that, in my opinion, the single greatest contributor to illegal immigration is a broken legal immigration system. I think if you do those two things, then the plight of 12 million, or nine million, or whatever the number is, becomes easier to deal with.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: But it won't become easy, it'll never be easy.
DAVID GREGORY: Right.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: But it'll become easier if you have the confidence of the American people.
DAVID GREGORY: But you get into these issues, as any legislator does, and it's the final step that's the hardest. Who can become legal? What is amnesty? And that's why this question is so crucial. Can anyone become legal who's here illegally, without first going home?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, we've talked about, for example, in the case of the kids. And I began to work on an idea a few months ago that hopefully one day will be reality. And that is what do you do, how do you accommodate kids that came here at a very young age, through no fault of their own, have grown up in this country, graduate high school, want to go to college and be a part of our future, and find themselves here undocumented, through no fault of their own? And we began to create an approach, and we'll continue to work on an approach.
DAVID GREGORY: This is what's known as The Dream Act.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, The Dream Act I don't support.
DAVID GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The Dream Act is a different piece of legislation.
DAVID GREGORY: But it was an older version of that legislation.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: An alternative to it.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Which I've discussed since my campaign.
DAVID GREGORY: Right.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: We need to accommodate these kids. But ultimately, again, here's where the balance comes into play, yes, we need to be compassionate towards nine or 12, whatever the number is, of people. These are human beings. And they are here because they're looking for a better life.
But we also can't do anything that encourages illegal immigration in the future. And here's the other point that I think no one ever talks about. What about all these people, including many Latino, Hispanic, you know, from Latin America, who are waiting to come here legally, who have done all the paperwork?
DAVID GREGORY: Senator, I understand this.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: What do we say to them?
DAVID GREGORY: But I--I'm not able to get a definitive answer from you, which is can anyone become legal without first going home? This is going to be the brass tacks question here--
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: But, when--
DAVID GREGORY: --when you get to immigration reform.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yeah. But again, the answer to that question depends on the environment in which it's being answered. And in this current environment, in this current environment, the options that we have available today to deal with 12 million people, is very limited. Because people are frustrated that our immigration laws are not being enforced, and we don't have a functional legal immigration system that people--
DAVID GREGORY: Right.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: --can avail themselves of, even if they did go back home.
DAVID GREGORY: The latest thing that's happened is that the president took action unilaterally.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yeah.
DAVID GREGORY: His Secretary of Homeland Security gave guidance to her local agency saying, "There should be work waivers," not necessarily a path to citizenship, but waivers where children of illegal immigrants. The president speaking this week at a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said this.
DAVID GREGORY: And isn't the president right to this extent? You're not even comfortable saying what you would do about a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are here, even the children of illegal immigrants, because this is such a tough issue in the Republican Party over what is, quote unquote, "amnesty."
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well again, that's not an accurate assessment. Because the first thing I'll tell you is I have talked in specific about an approach for these kids. The Dream Act is too broad. I said that repeatedly during my campaign. It doesn't just help the kids, it ultimately, in a very short order, could lead to these kids bringing in multiple relatives. It could lead to millions of other people immigrating through this process.
It goes back to the balance that I talk about. We need to be compassionate. But we also can't do something that encourages illegal immigration in the future. And I think The Dream Act, as they have written it, would do that.
DAVID GREGORY: But what the president did, you didn't like the way he did it. You wanted legislation. But substantively, you agree--
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well--
DAVID GREGORY: --with what the point did.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: No, even substantively, it's a short term fix for a long term problem. And in fact, what it does is it injects election year politics into an issue that will never be solved as long as it's a political one. I am convinced, after a year and a half here in-- in Washington and in the Senate, that for some people, I would say many or all, but for many, or I would just say too many people, this issue is more valuable unresolved. For them, they'd rather have the immigration--
DAVID GREGORY: But you didn't support a Dream Act Bill. You had a chance to put forward the bill, you didn't advance the legislation. Why not force Democrats to vote on this?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Because they're stoppable (?).
DAVID GREGORY: You're a leading voice on immigration.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well first of all, we have developed the idea in enough detail that people knew what was in, and that were able to-- when I first announced the idea, immediately, Democrats on the left criticized me. The same people who are now applauding the president for doing something similar. And that exposes the hypocrisy behind it.
The second point is that legislation like this, if you are a responsible policymaker, you don't just rush out a piece of legislation that impacts the lives of potentially 800,000 people that deeply affects the immigration laws of this country. You have to be careful. You have to answers to every question.
If I rush out a piece of legislation that's not ready, if I don't have every answer to every question that's gonna be raised about that bill, it loses credibility from the onset. So I will continue to approach it as a responsive policymaker. Look, if I wanted a talking point, if what I wanted was something to use in November elections, we would have cobbled something together and rolled it out.
DAVID GREGORY: But here's the reality. You support a candidate, Mitt Romney, who talked about self deportation during the campaign. Had to run hard to the right here on illegal immigration. Had said, at one point, that he would veto The Dream Act. And the reality is that he's far behind President Obama among Latino voters.
You write this in your book, An American Son, about Canada: "I begin to wonder if some of the people who speak so disparagingly about immigrants would be just as worked up if most of them were coming from Canada." You suggest a level of racism here toward illegal immigrants. How much of a problem does the Republican Party have on this issue?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well first of all, (UNINTEL) that all these voices are Republicans, the enormous, vast and overwhelming majority of Republicans are supporters of legal immigration, are compassionate to the plight of illegal immigrants, but understand that America cannot be the only country in the world that doesn't enforce its immigration laws.
And by the way, again, I repeat, what about the 30, 40, 50 million people that are waiting to immigrate to the U.S., who's relatives come to my offices, for example, some of them, asking for help to expedite that process? What do I tell them? "Come illegally, it's cheaper and quicker?"
So I think that-- no one talks about them. Again, it's not a simple issue. And The Dream Act is too broad. There is an alternative that's better. It's what we were working on, is what I had hoped to work on outside of politics, to be able to elevate the issue beyond the give and take of electoral politics. Obviously, that's not going to happen, unfortunately, this year, because now the issue has been politicized by the president.
DAVID GREGORY: Romney's got a big disadvantage.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well--
DAVID GREGORY: You would agree with that, among Latino voters?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well again, I think we need to remember that there are some historic factors in play. I mean there are also a large number of Hispanic voters in this country who happen to be liberal Democrats, who happen to be lifelong Democrats. They're not going to change the position and decide to vote for Mitt Romney now because he will change his position on immigration or not. So we need to realize that this is a long term effort for the Republican Party to insure that our message of limited government and free enterprise is accessible to a group of Americans that happen to be of Hispanic descent.