NRI Ideas Summit

Marco Rubio Urges an Immigration Policy Based on the ‘National Interest’

The Manhattan Instititute’s Reihan Salam and Senator Marco Rubio (R., Florida) (Pete Marovich)

Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) on Thursday proposed a reframing of the national immigration debate that will accommodate the reality of America’s great-power competition with China.

Rubio, who was joined onstage by Manhattan Institute president Reihan Salam, explained to the audience at National Review Institute’s 2019 Ideas summit that America must recalibrate its immigration system to prioritize highly skilled workers, whose presence in the U.S. will fuel innovation.

Immigration, Rubio said, should be treated like any other policy in that its formation should “reflect our national priorities.”

“We can’t afford to leave any Americans behind because China has three times as many people as we do. . . . So we need all hands on deck,” Rubio said before explaining why our current, family-based immigration system is woefully inadequate to the task of facilitating American dynamism.

Confronted with the criticism — often level by proponents of open borders — that any restriction on immigration constitutes immoral discrimination, Rubio argued that the current system, like any realistic immigration system, discriminates; it simply does so in a counterproductive manner.

“Any time you make decisions about who can or can’t come in you are discriminating. You’re making a choice and someone’s not benefiting from that choice,” he said. “Right now if you have a relative in the U.S. you have an advantage. We’re discriminating now.”

Rubio was a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that drafted a 2013 immigration compromise, which included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The bill ultimately failed due to substantial conservative backlash. Since Trump took office with a unified Republican majority, Rubio has attempted to draw on some of the relationships he developed with Democrats during the Obama years to build consensus for comprehensive, skills-based immigration reform, but his efforts have proved futile.

The Florida lawmaker went on to lament the loss of a common national identity, contrasting today’s pop-culture pessimism about America’s role in the world with the optimism of his youth.

“We need a binding principal as a nation to confront great challenges. Right now we lack it because we’ve been told by some people that our identity is not grounded in these founding ideals,” he said.

In explaining the loss of the common culture that he saw so fully embraced by fellow Cuban Americans in his youth, Rubio pointed to the toxic brand of identity politics that has so captivated the Left in recent years.

“All the institutions that gave us a sense of community are under duress,” he said. “Compounding that is this obsessive focus on identity politics, where we ask people to find their identity in their race and their gender. It’s deeply troubling.”

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