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Rubio's Immigration Stance Could Hurt His Appeal

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Conventional wisdom dictates that Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) would be a significant asset as a vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, but immigration activists believe his opposition to the DREAM Act would likely hurt the high-profile Latino lawmaker’s appeal among Hispanic voters.

“He has an amazing story, and a lot of people can relate to him, but at the end of the day, he does not stand with our community, he’s against it and people will definitely not support him,” said Juan Ortega, president of DREAM Big Vegas, a Las Vegas-based organization focused on raising awareness of the DREAM Act.

The measure, which would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who agree to go to college or join the military, was approved in the House last year, but it narrowly failed in the Senate a few days later. Since then, its prospects for passage have plummeted as GOP opposition to the measure was strengthened by the 2010 elections.

Rubio would appear to be an attractive vice presidential candidate for any of the frontrunners in the GOP presidential primaries. He is conservative, polished, has a national profile and could help a GOP ticket that would be taking on the nation’s first non-white president.

But Frank Sharry, executive director of left-leaning immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, believes that while Rubio may do well in Florida, his opposition to the DREAM Act would hurt him in critical Western swing states with sizable Latino electorates, such as Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

“If there are Spanish-language ads in the West saying Rubio opposes the DREAM Act, comprehensive immigration reform and is for mandatory E-Verify, it’s going to be disqualifying for all but about 20 percent of Hispanic voters,” Sharry said.

E-Verify is the Internet-based federal program that determines the immigration status of new hires. Rubio has co-sponsored a bill that would reauthorize the E-Verify employment check system and make it mandatory for all employers.

Sharry and others also noted that Rubio, while in the Florida state Legislature, supported legislation providing in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants. They charge that he switched his position to curry favor with the GOP base in order to help win his Senate seat.

But Rubio said his position has evolved since the in-state tuition legislation was put forward about 10 years ago and that he was elected on his current position.

“It’s too broad,” Rubio said of the DREAM Act. “It’s the wrong way to do the right thing.”

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