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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) remains focused on his effort to draft and pass a bipartisan bill to allow the children of some illegal immigrants to be in the country legally, after comments from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that his measure would face a serious political challenge.
“I think what [Boehner] said was that it is going to be difficult given this political climate,” Rubio said. “I agree with that. I think it is going to be difficult. I never said it was going to be easy. If this was an easy issue, it would have been done a long time ago.
“And I think [Boehner] went on to say ... that it is going to be even more difficult because the president isn’t showing leadership on it,” he added.
Rubio said the White House has also been “actively trying to torpedo my efforts” by calling in immigration advocates and urging them not to back Rubio’s bill.
“I think Speaker Boehner was acknowledging how difficult it is going to be given the highly politicized climate the president is contributing to, and I agree it’s going to be hard to pass,” Rubio said. “But I am hopeful that we are going to come up with an idea [that] makes sense, that calls to Americans’ spirit of humanitarianism, that recognizes that these kids do not have legal right to be here, but that appeals to our conscience.”
A senior administration aide said that the president is willing to work with any Member on immigration.
“But the president expects serious partners, and that is something we have not seen,” the aide said, adding that comprehensive immigration reform remains a priority for the White House and has been the focus of meetings with stakeholders.
Some Democrats have cast Rubio’s efforts as an attempt by Republicans to try to curry favor with Latino voters as the GOP presidential primary winds down. Some also see it as him trying to burnish his reputation among Hispanics in case presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney chooses Rubio as his running mate.
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who heads the Senate Democrats’ policy and communication shop, said Boehner’s comments “show how far Sen. Rubio has to go in trying to gain Republican support for any proposal to help immigrant students.” Schumer, who also is chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, added, “Sen. Rubio should be commended for trying to advance the conversation, but he is likely to find his party unwilling to abandon its hard-line, anti-immigrant stance.”
Rubio’s comments came after Boehner assessed the chances for Rubio’s bill in the House as not great.
“There’s always hope,” Boehner said. “But the problem with this issue is we’re operating in a very hostile political environment, and to deal with a very difficult issue like this I think it would be difficult at best.”
Rubio has been drafting a bill that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to stay in the country if they have a clean criminal record and join the military or attend college.
Rubio’s bill is a variation on the legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Durbin’s bill would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who agree to go to college or join the military. Details of Rubio’s bill are still being determined, but he said his bill would not create a “special path to citizenship, but we don’t prohibit citizenship.”
“Under the concept that we are developing they would receive a non-immigrant visa, which would allow them to stay in this country legally, work, go to school, as long as they continue to renew that visa,” Rubio said. “At some point in the future they would not be prohibited from doing what any other non-immigrant visa holder could do, and that is to try to become a green card holder by going through the regular process of legal immigration.
“They would not be prohibited from that,” Rubio continued. “They would be treated just like anybody else would, and I think that is eminently fair. We don’t create a special path, but we don’t prohibit it. We just ask them to go through the regular path, and many of the kids that we have spoken to think that is a reasonable position.”
The Democratic-led House passed a version of Durbin’s bill in 2010, 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.