Florida Senator and Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio said Friday afternoon that Republicans are guilty of “harsh” and sometimes “intolerable” rhetoric regarding immigration and said he supported a bipartisan solution for undocumented students, the so called DREAMers.
During a speech at the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference in Miami, the Republican senator laid out a new immigration vision he said would work. He seemed to soften his stance on the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for college students and those who enroll in the military – but he stopped short of endorsing it.
There is broad support in America that for those people brought here at a very young age by their parents, through no fault of their own, who have grown up here their entire lives and now want to serve in the military or are high academic achievers and want to go to school and contribute to Americas future…we should figure out away to accommodate them.
- Marco Rubio
Rubio, who is reportedly on the short list as a possible vice presidential pick for the future Republican Presidential nominee, gave an at times emotional and impassioned speech on immigration – an issue he regarded as “deeply personal” for millions of Americans.
“It’s impossible to walk a block in Miami, in Los Angeles, San Antonio without running into someone who is being deeply impacted by a broken legal immigration system,” he told the crowd at the conference, hosted by the center right advocacy group HLN.
Rubio specifically called out the left and the right for using immigration as a political divisive tool that rewards all politicians.
“For those of us who come from the conservative movement, we must admit that there are those among us who have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable, inexcusable, and we must admit, myself included, that sometimes we’ve been too slow in condemning that language for what it is,” Rubio said.
“But at the same time, on the left there are those that are using this issue for pure politics creating unrealistic and unreasonable expectations among those in the Latino community across this country.”
Rubio’s call for rhetoric change is fresh off of blasting GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich, who aired an ad in the Cuban-American senator’s home state calling Mitt Romney, his rival in the GOP primary, “anti-immigrant.” Rubio has said he was not happy with the remark.
“This kind of language is more than just unfortunate,” Rubio was quoted as saying in The Miami Herald. “It’s inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign.”
A popular politician who is regarded as the future of the Republican Party, Rubio’s Miami speech was interrupted on Friday by DREAM Act protestors who managed to make their way into the crowd. As he spoke of immigration as a “gateway issue,” three young men stood up and booed him.
“Then why do you not support undocumented immigrants,” a young man shouted. “Please help us, the immigration community, you are an immigrant yourself so is everybody else.”
Rubio called the men brave and repeatedly asked for them to stay to hear him out. But they were abruptly led out of the ballroom by hotel security.
“His anti-immigrant views are hurting the immigrant community,” said one of the males, who identified himself as a ‘concerned citizens’ and undocumented student while being ushered out of the Doral Resort and Spa.
“He does not support the DREAM Act,” another said to Fox News Latino.
Rubio referenced undocumented students in his speech but did not reference the DREAM Act specifically.
“There is broad support in America that for those people brought here at a very young age by their parents, through no fault of their own, who have grown up here their entire lives and now want to serve in the military or are high academic achievers and want to go to school and contribute to Americas future…we should figure out away to accommodate them,” he said. “Figure out a way to accommodate them that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future.”
Rubio’s words and actions carry weight in the party. The 40-year-old Cuban American’s endorsement would be a big get for any of the presidential contenders ahead of the Tuesday primary – he has ties to both Romney and Gingrich, and speculation remains that he could end up the vice presidential nominee.
GOP candidates wanting to win Florida clearly do not want to disappoint Rubio.
Rubio ended his speech talking about his family’s immigrant experience - his father’s travels from Cuba to New York to California. He made reference to the controversy that came about after it was discovered he had given the wrong dates for when his parents had left Cuba. He called the experience a “blessing in disguise” because it allowed him to delve into five decades of his family’s life.
Yet, even as he called for a softer tone on immigration, Rubio reiterated his emphasis for bi-partisan support for the need for a modernized system, a new Visa program, E-Verify, tougher border security and a functional guest worker program.
“I challenge the Republican nominees and all Republicans to not just be the anti-illegal immigration party,” he said. “That’s not who we are and that’s not who we should be we should be the pro-legal immigration party.”
Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC) and a reporter for Fox News Latino (FNL).
Follow him on Twitter @BryanLlenas.