Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said Friday that the “time has passed” to put forth a comprehensive immigration bill like the one he co-sponsored in 2013.
Rubio said President Obama “poisoned the debate” on immigration when he extended deportation relief to an estimated five million undocumented immigrants in November and that a rapid influx of Central American families and children at the U.S.-Mexico border last summer has eroded public confidence in the federal immigration enforcement.
“The only responsible way to move forward is to first and foremost secure our immigration system," Rubio said at the National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C.. "If we do not do that, we won't have the political support to move forward."
The 43-year-old senator, who announced he would run for president last month, said a secure immigration system goes beyond policing the border. He called for a strengthening of the employment verification system and better tracking of those who overstay visas before he would entertain the idea of granting legal status to the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country.
Rubio said that 40 percent of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States today did not illegally cross the border, but rather came to the country on visas, a statistic backed up by a 2006 Pew Research fact sheet.
“We're like a hotel that checks people in, but never checks you out,” he said.
In 2013, Rubio was a prominent member of a bipartisan group of eight senators who pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. A bill drafted by the so-called "Gang of Eight" passed in the Senate, but ultimately failed to gain traction in the House.
Today, the first-term senator said that only if the government can reform its legal immigration system for permanent immigrants, as well as temporarily workers, would he consider a pathway to non-permanent status for the undocumented immigrants living in the country.
Rubio said a plan should require that undocumented immigrants meet residency requirements, pass a background check, pay taxes, learn English and pay a fine.
“In exchange for all of that, what you would get is the equivalent of a non-immigrant, non-permanent work visa to be in the U.S.,” he said.
This isn't the first time Rubio has distanced himself from the 2013 legislative effort. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last summer, he said he would vote against the bill if it was brought to the floor.
The GOP presidential candidate also advocated for a legal immigration system that favors skilled workers over people with family ties in the U.S.
“Ultimately we are in a global competition for talent and our legal immigration system should reflect it,” he said.
On Friday, he said that if the country can bring immigrants to the U.S. to play basketball and baseball, we should do it for science and math, too.
“I believe our country is enriched when we're able to attract the brightest people in the world,” he said.
Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.