Marco Rubio, Jorge Ramos lock horns on immigration in first interview
Rubio and Ramos addressed controversial issues, including the senator’s spat with Univision.
Sen. Marco Rubio sat down for a wide-ranging, and at times contentious, interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos, his first since being elected senator in 2010.
The interview, designed to promote his newly-released autobiography An American Son, tackled a litany of controversial topics, such as the Florida Republican’s position on immigration reform and a rift between Univision network and him stemming from a story about a family member that aired in July 2011.
During his successful campaign two years ago, the Cuban-American senator became a wildly-popular figure among conservatives. As the GOP’s fastest-rising Latino star, many in the party view him as a bridge to the Latino community due to his charisma and the fact he’s fluent in Spanish. He has attracted significant vice presidential buzz during this election and speculation has run rampant that he could vie to become the first Latino president in 2016.
But Rubio’s overtures to a national audience of Latinos have been bumpy. His position on immigration is tougher than that of most Latinos and he engaged in a spat with Univision, the most-watched Spanish-language network in the U.S., over the July 2011 story about his brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia, who was convicted in a drug trafficking case in the 1980s.
At the top of the interview, which was conducted in Spanish, Ramos and Rubio expressed a desire to bury the hatchet.
“In the past there have been tensions between you and Univision’s news department, and I appreciate you having agreed to speak with us about absolutely everything,” Ramos said.
“No, as far as I’m concerned, that’s all in the past,” Rubio responded.
The interview quickly moved to other topics, such as the senator’s political ambitions and immigration reform.
Rubio sought to downplay the notion that he could be “the first Hispanic president” and the notion he already has his eyes on other higher offices.
“I don’t believe there is any impediment for a Hispanic to become president of this great nation,” he said. “It’s not an ambition particularly, and I’ll tell you why. Obviously, I believe that if I do a good job in the Senate, I will have other opportunities, possibly political, possibly in the press.
“I don’t know what opportunities might present themselves in the future, but what I do know is that I have the opportunity now to serve in the Senate and here I want to do a good job,” he added.
Addressing the topic of immigration, which comprised the bulk of the interview, Ramos repeatedly pressed Rubio about how he would address the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., referencing his family’s immigrant history, including his maternal grandfather, Pedro Victor García, who was ordered deported after entering the country from Cuba without a visa, according to an unauthorized Rubio biography by Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia. Later, García’s case was reviewed and he was permitted to stay legally.
“Why did your grandfather receive the support and generosity of this country? And why do you not do exactly the same?” Ramos asked.
“Yes, but I do defend them. Look, my grandfather’s case, and I believe that is what brings up this topic is that the immigration situation and that of the undocumented people are not the same,” Rubio said. “Not everybody entered in the same manner.
Rubio said that in order to implement broader immigration reforms, it is necessary to change public perceptions of immigrants and build political support in Congress. Part of that process, Rubio said, was continuing to increase border security and implementing an system through which employers could verify that status of potential employees.
“This cannot be the only country in the world which does not have a system of immigration laws that are not enforced,” Rubio said.
Ramos responded repeatedly that Rubio’s position was “anti-immigrant” and antithetical to the position of most Latino voters, 71 percent of whom favor a type of “earned citizenship” for the undocumented, according to a January ABC News/Univision/Latino Decisions poll.
Rubio explained that he also favors a guest worker program that would allow people to work legally who would otherwise be undocumented. He also discussed his DREAM Act-lite proposal that would allow certain undocumented youth to reside legally in the U.S. (the senator said that effort has been put on hold following President Obama’s new deportation policy, which was announced after the interview was recorded.)
“To say that they are anti-immigrant is ridiculous, to say that because I do not support the specific ideas that Barack Obama has about immigration, I think that is ridiculous,” Rubio said. “I support legal immigration that reunifies, that unites families, that I believe that is important as an immigration system. Simply, I think that this country has to have a legal immigration system that is respected and that works.”
Beyond a guest-worker program, the senator did not expand on a broader solution for the 11 million undocumented, saying only that he does not support mass deportations, but also is not in favor of “amnesty,” or a separate pathway to citizenship.
“We are not going to deport 11 … It’s that the American people will not support it when they see the consequences of that and the human face of that type of things. Neither are we going to give amnesty to 11 million people. That support does not exist; within those two options, which are not options, there is a solution,” he said.
Ramos also pressed Rubio on his position on Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration crackdown law, which the federal government challenged before the Supreme Court, which is opposed by 75 percent of Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center. Ramos cited his support for Arizona’s right to pass such a law in a list of “anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic” positions held by Rubio.
Again, Rubio pushed back on that notion.
“In the case of Arizona, I understand why they did it, but I don’t believe it’s ideal,” he said. “I have said repeatedly, I do not believe that the Arizona law is a model. I don’t want it in Florida, nor do I believe it is necessary in other states.”
Rubio decried the fact that immigration has become a political football during an election year. Without naming them, Rubio appeared to criticize Obama and Democrats for pledging to pass comprehensive immigration reform that he says is politically impossible to pass through Congress. Such promises, Rubio said, made it difficult for him to marshal support for alternative measures, such as his now-scuttled bill addressing undocumented youth.
“What I am looking for is where that space exists to help human beings like these, but on the other hand gain the necessary support, and that balance is what I am looking for and, at times, that is not going to reflect the non-realistic ideas that the left has presented to win the Hispanic votes in this country,” he said. “I talk about that in my book, and I think that that is very sad, that it is being used in that manner.”
Though most immigration policy at hand won’t directly affect Latino voters, the tone of larger immigration debate is often a litmus test for whether politicians are friendly to the broader Latino community, a fact which Rubio recognized.
“For us, for our community, the subject of migration is not a theoretical topic, it is not a newspaper article, it is a human reality of a human being that we love, we share with them, they are our neighbors,” he said. “Then, one says, well, we would like to fix their situation, but we understand that there have to be immigration laws.”
The senator also expressed his disappointment in Univision’s coverage of the Cicilia story, accusing the network of being over-aggressive in contacting members of his family.
“I believe it will still remain as a black mark in the history of the Univision Network and of Univision News,” Rubio said.
Ramos responded that the story was factually true, and that it even appeared in Rubio’s own autobiography. He added that Univision attempted to contact Rubio’s office. But the senator stood by his guns.
“As I have said in my book, I was upset by the impact that it had on my mother, who had to see it on the news that she watches every night, but, even further, what upset me was that you did not contact me first,” Rubio said.
“I am pleased to talk much about anything that has to deal with my life and how it impacted me, what I didn’t like is that they went after my family, and I believe that what it teaches us the most because this story should not have been done is because not even the Democratic Party has touched that subject, not even the Democrats who, as we well know, are never lacking for excuses to attack me, not even they have touched that subject, I want to leave all of this in the past but I have written it in the book, and I’m glad you asked me about that.”
Full transcript can be found below: