Rubio wants to soften GOP’s immigration tone, but faces challenges
The GOP has once again turned to Marco Rubio to put forth a softer, more Latino-friendly stance on immigration issues. (Getty Images)
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) has become a chief spokesman for Republicans seeking to soften the party’s rhetoric on immigration leading up to the 2012 presidential elections.
Over the past several weeks, in a variety of public forums, Rubio - who opposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the DREAM Act - has said that the GOP should emphasize its support for legal immigration and the contributions of immigrants instead of its opposition to illegal immigration.
“I’ve always said that tone is important in everything. When we talk about immigration, it’s important that the Republican Party positions itself as … in favor of legal immigration, not only a party against illegal immigration,” he told Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión. “That’s not the tone nowadays. They haven’t focused enough on that. The GOP is in favor of [a] legal immigration system in which this country can continue to honor its legacy.”
As the GOP’s most-powerful Latino, Rubio appears to have seized on this message in order to broaden the party’s appeal to Latino voters, the majority of whom care greatly about the immigration issue and strongly support a pathway to citizenship.
“We cannot be the anti-illegal immigration party,” he said. “We have to be the pro-legal immigration party.”
He also pushed that message in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
But now, Rubio is spreading that message to Spanish-language news outlets in order to directly communicate with Spanish-speaking Latino voters who could help decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.
Republicans believe they have an opportunity to pick up votes among Latinos in 2012 due to the higher unemployment rate in the community and frustration over the failure of a proposed immigration reform bill in Congress.
His push comes at a time when GOP presidential candidates have adopted tough rhetoric against illegal immigration as they appeal to their party’s base during the primary process, words that observers say could turn off Latinos. Rubio’s approach appears to be an effort to prime the pump for the eventual nominee to shift gears on immigration for a general election audience.
But it’s not clear that this approach will be enough to sway Latino voters.
While Republicans believe Rubio represents a credible voice in the immigration debate, he might not be considered a trustworthy messenger to pro-immigration reform Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans, due to his stances on the issues. In addition to opposing comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, Rubio has not outright rejected the Arizona immigration law, instead only saying that it poses concerns.
“Senator Rubio, Mitt Romney, and the [leading] Republican presidential candidates are opposed to a path to legalization for almost 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. They also oppose the DREAM Act, while favoring anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Ricardo Ramírez.
Democrats have also noted that despite Rubio’s talk, he has not directly called out instances of harsh rhetoric on undocumented immigrants coming from others in the party, including presidential candidates like Romney and Herman Cain.
Rubio further explained his positions, saying that passing a comprehensive immigration bill is a political non-starter in Washington these days.
“It’s a difficult problem, politically. At this moment, a solution doesn’t exist on a political level, the votes don’t exist, nor the political will to deal with that,” he said during the interview.
“What Sentator Rubio is not saying is that he and his colleagues are responsible for the lack of will that is impeding immigration reform,” Ramirez responded.
Juan Gastelum contributed reporting