Senator Marco Rubio’s press office is distributing this video of him discussing the bipartisan immigration-reform proposal on Sean Hannity’s program last night:
By Rubio’s description, it all sounds pretty appealing, and there’s no doubt he genuinely believes this would improve the situation. But there are a few hitches. For starters, Rubio describes the process:
When you’re undocumented, you have to come forward and you have to identify yourself. You’re going to be fingerprinted. You’re going to have a background check done. You’re going to have to pay taxes and fines. And what you get is a non-immigrant visa. That is not a green card. A non-immigrant visa means you have a work permit to stay in the country.
First, does the illegal immigrant pay taxes and fines before the non-immigrant visa is issued? How big are those taxes and fines? And how many illegal immigrants will be able to pay those taxes and fines? If they can’t, are they deported? Or do they have a portion of their future wages garnished?
Whatever system is implemented, how long will it be before that system of taxes and fines is declared a draconian and cruel hardship by the pro-rapid-legalization crowd, and there’s pressure to reduce it or waive it entirely? Remember, in the effort to pass immigration reform last time, a Bush White House spokesman said “Determining the past tax liability [for illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship] would have been very difficult and costly and extremely time consuming” . . . so the requirement was dropped during negotiations. As Mickey Kaus said, “Try that ‘difficult and time consuming’ excuse out on the IRS if you’re a U.S. citizen and see how far it gets you.”
How many illegal immigrants come to the U.S. looking for work but aren’t interested in U.S. citizenship? For those folks, would they even bother getting anything beyond the “non-immigrant visa”? Once they can work and send back money to their family, and not fear being arrested . . . isn’t that all that a certain portion of the 11 million want?
Because I thought a big reason people are wary of a “path to citizenship”/”path to legalization”/”path to green cards”/what have you is the fear of illegal immigrants as economic competitors for low-skilled work, driving down wages. Once you allow those currently in the country illegally to work legally . . . you’re expanding the labor pool, aren’t you? There are currently 22 million Americans who are unemployed or under-employed (working part-time, can’t find full-time work). Is putting 11 million people on the path to becoming legal going to help those folks, or hurt them by creating more competition for available jobs?
If Marco Rubio were in charge of implementing and enforcing this whole system, it would be easier to believe that the enforcement parts of this legislation would live up to their billing, and that those who weren’t willing to “play by the rules” would be deported. But he isn’t, so there’s a lot of wariness out there that this legislation will have to overcome.
Transcript below the fold . . .
Senator Marco Rubio: “First of all, thanks for having me on to talk about this important topic. I think it is a good moment to remind people and the country that the vast majority of conservatives favor legal immigration, and we don’t have a legal immigration system that works right now. And our problem with illegal immigration is that it undermines legal immigration.
“So, we have 11 million people that are undocumented. We understand that we have to deal with this issue because we have 11 million people that, by all accounts, are going to be here the rest of their lives with or without documents. Our objection has been in the past that we can’t do anything to deal with 11 million people that number one, is unfair to the people who have done it the right way. Or number two, that would encourage illegal immigration in the future. And that’s why your point is so important.
“One of the things that I’ve made a key part of my own personal principles, and am glad they found their way into these principles, and must be a part of any final bill, and that is this: that before we can move toward a path for green cards — because citizenship comes after that — before we move to a path toward green cards, there have to be enforcement mechanisms that are verified and in place. And it’s not just the border, Sean. It’s workplace enforcement because that’s the magnet for illegal immigration. And it’s tracking the entry and exit visas. Forty percent of our illegal immigration, of our undocumented people in this country, entered legally and they overstayed their visas. We don’t track when people leave, so we don’t even know who they are or where they are.
“All of these things must happen before there is a path to a green card. I think that is a critical part of any component that we do here.”
FOX News’ Sean Hannity: “I read the framework that was put out today. Senator, it said simultaneously, so I wondered if people were playing games. Already playing politics?”
Rubio: “No, let me explain that. Here’s what happens. When you’re undocumented, you have to come forward and you have to identify yourself. You’re going to be fingerprinted. You’re going to have a background check done. You’re going to have to pay taxes and fines. And what you get is a non-immigrant visa. That is not a green card. A non-immigrant visa means you have a work permit to stay in the country. You don’t qualify for any federal benefits under that. You don’t get federal benefits. During the same time — and they’re going to have to stay in this process for a significant period of time — and while they’re in that process, is when all of this security stuff needs to happen.
“And after a number of years have gone by and the security enforcement stuff is in place, then the second phase begins, which is that we give people the opportunity to apply for a green card, the same way everybody else does. Not a special way. The same way. Which means that you have to stand in line. You have to wait your turn behind everyone who applied before you legally. And when your turn comes up, you have to qualify for the visa that you’re applying for.
“In essence, we are giving people the opportunity to earn the chance to do this the way they should have done it to begin with. That’s why it said simultaneous, because while you’re in that probationary period, that’s when the enforcement stuff is happening.”
Hannity: “So how long will this process ultimately take? For example, you said no federal benefits, you have to prove that you have a job, you have to go through a background check. I mean, is it really going to be that stringent for people?”
Rubio: “That’s why the details are so important of how you write it. You’re absolutely right. This is a town where they write things that are called something, but that’s not what it is. So it has to be important. Look, you said something in your outline that is very important. I don’t want to ever have to do this again. But that’s what is going to happen if all we do is the legalization part and we don’t do the enforcement part. And the only way that I know to incentivize the enforcement part is to say that the green-card stuff doesn’t even begin to happen until the enforcement happens first. That trigger is critically important, otherwise it will never happen. That’s why we are where we are today. Because when they did this in 1986, they did not do the enforcement, and that led to 11 million people. We will be right back here again in ten years or less if we don’t do the enforcement.”
Hannity: “Can I characterize that, if you don’t get enforcement first, or securing the borders first, is that a deal killer for you?”
Rubio: “Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Because we will be right back here again. I want to deal with this permanently. And by the way, I think the vast majority of people in both parties would agree with me on that point. No one ever wants to have to do this again. I mean, no one is happy about the fact that we have 11 million people here who are undocumented. This is something that should never ever happen again. But the decisions that were made that led to this happened when I was in ninth grade. That was a long time ago. And now we have to deal with it so that it never happens again.”
Hannity: “How do you respond to those people? I read the framework and when you first explained it to me last week, and I spoke to you, I said that this was the most interesting proposal that I had ever heard. Because it seemed like you were really sincere in putting this to bed once and for all. And also it seemed like a very, very difficult process with a lot of penalties involved for people who did not respect out laws and sovereignty. What do you say to people who say, ‘Well, ultimately in the end if people can get a green card, they can stay. That it’s a back door form of amnesty.’ What’s your response to that?”
Rubio: “Well, first of all, the bottom line is that it would have been cheaper and easier for them to have done it the legal way than the way they are going to get it now. In essence, we are not creating an incentive and we are not rewarding it. Because, quite frankly, for many of these people, they would have been better off doing it the right way. This is going to cost them penalties. This is going to cost them taxes. This is going to cost them a significant wait. And then, after they do all of that, the only thing they are going to have access to is the opportunity to apply for a green card. You still have to qualify for the visa you are applying for. So, they would have been better off doing it the right way from the beginning.
“Amnesty. [It's] different from the proposal in 2007 that created a brand new thing called a Z visa, which basically was a blanket and you had to do very little to qualify for it. So, we are not trying to punish anybody here. This is not that we are angry at immigrants. This is about the fact that we don’t want this to ever happen again. And we don’t want to be unfair to the people that have done it the right way. Sean, I have hundreds of people a month come to our offices to talk about the fact that they have family members that are waiting in line to come here the right way. Our message to them cannot be, ‘Come illegally because it’s cheaper and quicker.’
“On the other hand, this is the reality. We have 11 million human beings in this country that are going to be here for the rest of their lives. We have to solve that problem in a way that takes care of it forever.”
Hannity: “And they go to the back of the line, that will be part of the legislation. Correct?”
Rubio: “Yes. And not only do they go to the back of the line and wait behind everybody who applied before them, the right way. But when their turn comes up, they have to qualify for the visa they are applying for. Not a special pathway.”
Hannity: “And there is going to be a lot of penalties and security checks and a lot of other. I will say this, Senator.”
Rubio: “At the front end. Yeah.”
Hannity: “It’s the most thoughtful proposal that I have heard and you’ve explained it better than anybody. But the devil will be in the details.”
Rubio: “Always is.”
Hannity: “And to me I agree with you that, if they don’t secure the border first, there is no point because we are going to be back to debating it in five years.”
Rubio: “That’s right. That’s correct.”
Hannity: “All right, Senator, thanks so much for clarification. I appreciate it. I wish you best of luck on this process as you move forward.”
Rubio: “Thank you, Sean.”