Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) is proposing an immigration reform package in this week's Weekend Interview in the Wall St. Journal. Rubio, whose name was floated as a potential vice presidential nominee for Mitt Romney, wants to take the immigration issue away from the Democrats. According to Examiner’s analysis of exit polls of the 2012 presidential election, immigration was one of the most damaging issues for the Republicans.
The first prong of Rubio’s plan is to modernize America’s immigration system. He would issue more immigration visas to immigrants with technical skills needed by U.S. companies. Rubio notes that only 6.5 percent of immigrants come to the U.S. based on their labor and skills, but that American colleges don’t produce enough science, technology, engineering and math graduates to fill open positions. In fact, many foreign students who come to the U.S. to study cannot get visas to stay in the country and work.
Rubio believes that it is necessary to secure the border, but also supports workplace enforcement initiatives such as requiring employers to check the immigration status of workers. Rubio believes that these initiatives will remove the incentive for immigrants to enter the country illegally.
There is a real need for immigrant labor. In spite of high unemployment rates, Georgia is among the states where strict immigration laws have resulted in large crop losses for farmers. After Georgia’s immigration law took effect in 2011, Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that the Georgia Agribusiness Council estimated that the state’s farmers would lose as much as $1 billion because there were not enough workers to harvest their crops before they spoiled.
Rubio would solve this problem by increasing the number of permanent and seasonal work visas for farm workers. Farmers need immigrant labor to harvest their crops and immigrants need jobs to support their families. Issuing work visas would be beneficial to both groups in addition to bringing immigrants into the legal workforce to prevent them from being exploited. An added benefit would be the tax revenue that from the salaries of these legal migrant workers.
The problem of illegal aliens would be solved by bringing them into the open. Rubio proposes that they come forward to undergo background and fingerprint checks. If they had committed a serious crime, they would be deported. Those who had been in the U.S. for an extended period and who had lived within the law otherwise would be subjected to a fine, be required to pay back taxes, and possibly do community service. After they had paid their debt to society, they would be given legal status and could apply for permanent resident status. After a waiting period of several years, they might be allowed to apply for citizenship.
Sen. Rubio’s plan, which he would pass in several smaller bills as opposed to one omnibus bill, fills a void within the Republican platform as a way to appeal to minorities who now make up 28 percent of the electorate according to exit polls and vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats. Rubio doesn’t believe it should be this way. He says that immigration is a “gateway” issue for Hispanics. Republican outreach on this issue might well help Hispanics realize that they have much in common with Republicans on other issues.
The proposal will likely face opposition from members of Rubio’s own party who oppose a path to legality for illegal aliens. Because of the rising share of minority voters and the ease with which Democrats demonize hard-line positions on immigration, the future of the Republican Party may hinge on the success of Rubio and his allies.
Nevertheless, Rubio believes that the issue is ripe for Republicans because President Obama and the Democrats have "not done a thing" for immigration according to the Journal article. It is likely that the Democrats will fight Republican efforts at reform in order to keep Hispanics in the Democratic fold for future elections.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Sen. Rubio's position was did not include securing the border as a precursor to immigration reform. Sen. Rubio's press secretary has informed the author that this is not the case. Sen. Rubio does believe that border security is necessary before any reform package can move forward.