Less than an hour after joining his seven senate colleagues to introduce their long-awaited bipartisan immigration proposal in front of tearful supporters Thursdsay, the Florida Republican headed two blocks from the Capitol and met with a more confrontational audience -- dozens of conservative radio hosts from across the country who had come to Washington with the specific goal of killing the effort.
National syndicated host Lars Larson questioned whether Rubio would be proposing “amnesty” for the 11 million people in the country illegally if his name was Mark Roberts and not Marco Rubio. Nationally syndicated host Mike Siegal of Genesis Communications asked how Rubio’s promises to secure the border this time are different from then-President Ronald Reagan’s promises in 1986 when he signed an immigration bill that failed to stem a wave of illegal immigration. Michael Brown of KHOW-AM in Denver, Colorado told Rubio that amnesty should not come before securing the border.
The hosts’ criticism reflects how hard the road ahead will be for Rubio and the other senators as they try to convince conservatives to support the bipartisan Senate proposal, which would grant most of the 11 million people here illegally a path to citizenship.
“Look me in the eyes and tell me if Americans buy this deal today will the government do the same thing they did in ‘86 and not follow through,” Larson asked Rubio.
Rubio told Larson that the 1986 plan didn’t have the same border control requirements as the current senate proposal. It didn’t have the same worker verification and entry/exit system that is being proposed. He told Larson and the others that the legitimate issues they raised were exactly why this bill was necessary. But he also said the government is just not going to be able to deport the 11 million who are here illegally.
“This system is actually designed to make things better,” Rubio told host Rusty Humphries and his listeners in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and other states. “What we have now is defacto amnesty. What we have now is millions of people living in this country and nothing better is going to happen. ... Leaving it the way it is now is bad for America.”
The talk radio event included about 48 conservative radio hosts from more than two dozen states. The event was sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes the legislation.
Rubio is unlikely to change the minds of many listeners whose views are already very entrenched on this issue, Larson and Brown said.
After listening to Rubio speak, one caller from Oregon, Pat, said she didn’t understand why anyone would trust the government to secure the border and allow Rubio to “just launch ahead into all these cute little programs that he’s got dreamed up.” “This irritates me to think that somebody can be here illegally, break laws, and then be given any kind of assistance or help or free ride, you name it. Its not right,” said Steve from Eugene, Oregon.
Rubio understands the challenge. He told listeners they have legitimate concerns and the legislation seeks to address them. He said he wants them to at least hear directly from him why the senators are proposing this legislation and what they want to accomplish.
“Obviously, there are people who have very strong feelings and quite frankly will never be supportive of the reform we’re working on or any reform for that matter,” Rubio said. “But ultimately I think they deserve to hear what we’re working on and why we’re working on it. And hopefully some of them will consider why we’re doing this.”
Here are a few excerpts:
Siegal: It’s not just people wanting to come here for a better life. Basically, we don’t control the border. Why would you give amnesty at a point in time when we don’t even have control of the border? The drug cartels run the Southern border of this country.
Rubio: What you’re describing is the status quo. What you’re describing is the problem that we have today starting with the border. And I believe that unless we create incentives for the border to actually be secured its never going to happen. The plan requires the Department of Homeland Security to reach a specific metric which is 100 percent operational awareness and 90 percent apprehensions. If they fail to do so in the 5 year period, they lose control of the issue. it’s turned over to -- not a commission of Washington people -- its a turned over to a commission of border state governors.
Larson: If you were Mark Roberts and not Marco Rubio would you be the frontman for this?
Rubio: As a U.S. Senator from Florida, I would still have to deal with this. This is a huge problem in Florida. An enormous problem in Florida. And it’s problem all across the board. It’s bad for our economy. Look, the fact that I come from hispanic heritage and live in a hispanic community means I see both sides of immigration. I know people and I have met people who take advantage of the sytem. And its wrong. And I also know people who when they were four years old and didn’t realize they were U.S. citizens or U.s. residents until they went to apply for college. It’s a complex issue in involving human beings.
Larson: Look me in the eyes and tell me if Americans buy this deal today will the government do the same thing they did in ‘86 and not follow through?
Rubio: The ‘86 effort didn’t have E-verify. The technology didn’t exist. The ‘86 effort didn’t have the technology to have the exit/entry tracking system that will now be implemented at the airports and seaports. The ‘86 effort didn’t have what we know about securing the border that we’ve learned from experiences in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.