While other Democrats and Republicans continue to lock horns over comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, leaders of the 21-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus have reached out directly to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the GOP’s top-ranking Latino on Capitol Hill, imploring him to join them in finding a bipartisan solution to reform the nation’s broken immigration system.
“We agree that some of the rhetoric used in the discussion about immigration is extreme and deplorable and that we must move quickly in denouncing it,” CHC chair Charles González of Texas and Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, who heads the group’s immigration task force, stated in a letter.
Rubio’s response, proffered through spokesman Alex Burgos, is bringing hope to those who had given up on the prospect.
Burgos told Hispanic Link News Service, “Senator Rubio takes the immigration issue seriously and is prepared to discuss it with anyone who is serious about working toward a bipartisan solution.” He confirmed that Rubio’s office has responded with potential date options. None have been set yet.
In its invitation, the caucus lauded comments made by Rubio, of Cuban descent, during his keynote address to the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami Jan. 27. There, he told an audience of 600 that he is not against immigrants and wants to fix the flawed system by securing the border and creating rigid employment laws that would benefit the United States.
Felipe Matos, an undocumented activist from Florida, led a March 1 No Somos Rubios (We are not Rubios) protest in Washington, D.C. The campaign was organized by Presente Action, which held similar protests in Miami and Phoenix. It pressed Rubio to declare his support for the DREAM Act, legislation that could legalize 2.1 million undocumented young immigrants who complete two years of college or military service.
Matos has charged Rubio with flip-flopping on in-state tuition for undocumented students. In 2003, as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio co-sponsored a bill granting it. When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, he campaigned against it.
Gutiérrez, the Democratic Party’s most outspoken advocate on immigration, said during a March 1 teleconference, "He can't speak to two sets of microphones and give conflicting positions on the issues of immigration.”
Rubio, who has stated his support for key DREAM Act elements, responded the same day in a Spanish-language video, “I do want to help these students, and I've constantly said since my campaign that I'm looking for the way to accommodate these young people in a bipartisan way.” He accused some “left-wing groups” of using the students’ dreams as a political weapon.
“I'm not going to fall in that trap,” he said. “I'm going to continue focusing on finding a solution for these students.”
In the past few years, Rubio, now a Tea Party favorite, has been regularly mentioned as a potential Republican vice presidential candidate.
Fellow Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-NJ), also of Cuban heritage, said at a roundtable with staff of Philadelphia’s Al Día March 2 that he has encouraged Rubio to take a more vocal stance and unify Republicans in support of the DREAM Act and a better immigration policy.
“Momentum grows momentum,” Menéndez said. “I'm hopeful.” He added that while it would be difficult for his Republican Senate colleague to share all of his views, “at least we have a common cause in trying to achieve a reform that is not only important to our community but to the country.”