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Tom Head

Can Marco Rubio Save Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By January 15, 2013

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I said it in November:
[C]onservative Republicans still control the House - but it is clear that they can't afford to placate or offend their party's nativist base. If they repeat the mistakes they made when they introduced HR 4437, they will severely limit their growth potential not only among Latino voters, but also among other voters of color ... On the other hand, if the Republican Party does concede ground and allow a path to citizenship, the Tea Party will become more aggressive - and, no doubt, field primary challengers who will pick away at more moderate Republican incumbents. This is a no-win situation for Republican policymakers.
But if he plays his cards right, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) just might make me eat my words. Mother Jones' Adam Serwer describes a Rubio comprehensive immigration reform proposal that presents a relatively non-punitive path to citizenship. The broad outline of Rubio's proposal--which hasn't actually turned into a piece of legislation yet--has been endorsed by Paul Ryan, and subsequently may stand a better-than-50% chance of passing the House, assuming it receives Democratic support (and, unless there are some serious surprises in it, it will).

Serwer wonders if Rubio really means it:
Rubio might merely be providing conservatives cover on immigration reform by sounding like he's open to compromise. He might just be boosting his own profile. Talking about immigration reform without proposing anything concrete wins Rubio plaudits from conservative thought-leaders without fully alienating the hard-line immigration opponents in his party.
I think Rubio very well might, because suggesting a citizenship path for undocumented immigrants may, in fact, have already alienated right-wing nativists (look at what happened to John McCain). It's not the sort of thing that a prominent national Republican in a Southern state would casually say, especially if he plans to run for president. We can also safely assume that Paul Ryan considered the political implications of endorsing Rubio's proposal before he did it. Are these two young, conservative Republicans ready to buck their party's nativist history on immigration reform? Maybe. Just maybe. And in this political climate, "maybe" is a pretty big deal.

Related: Tea Party Bill Would Repeal Birthright Citizenship | History of Undocumented ("Illegal") Immigration

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