Last night at the Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colorado, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida insisted that, because economic conditions are different these days, the United States needs to limit the amount of immigrants it grants permanent residency to. It’s a statement about the nation’s immigration system that could’ve been made by any of the 10 candidates on stage, but there’s one thing the senator admitted during his statement that shows how much he’s distance himself from his own past.
Here’s what he said. See if you can catch it:
Today we have a legal immigration system for permanent residency that is largely based on whether you have a relative living here, and that’s the way my parents came legally in 1956. But in 2015, we have a very different economy. Our legal immigration system from now on has to be merit-based. It has be based on what skills you have, what you can contribute economically, and most important of all, on whether or not you’re coming here to become an American — not just live in America, but be an American.
Okay, so I helped you out by emphasizing it.
Marco Rubio wants make the United States more exclusive, shutting the many doors that lead to living a fuller, more productive life in this country, one of which his own parents were allowed to walk through. Now that Rubio and his family have succeeded and climbed out of the pit of uncertainty, he wants to raise the ladder behind him, leaving those who come after to claw at the wall.
There’s a term for people like Rubio who, once they’ve earned a place at the U.S. American table, say we need to do away with all the forms of assistance that helped them reach their seat. They’re called Latino Republicans.
Not to be confused with Latino conservatives — those who adhere to Biblical law (or at least pretend to) and truly believe that that government governs best which governs least — Latino Republicans, for the most part, are those who wish to eliminate many aspects of the immigration and social welfare systems that allowed people like them to not only survive but thrive. “I received a good education that has led to my successful career,” they say, “but now it’s time to cut education spending and financial aid, and get rid of affirmative action policies.” Or they’ll say, “My family and I are in the country safe and sound, so let’s start securing the border even more and making it harder for my fellow Latin Americans to follow me here.”
It’s rarely mentioned that, even though the senator supports restrictions on birthright citizenship today, both papá and mamá Rubio were green card holders when little Marco was born back in 1971.
There’s also the tiny, inconvenient fact that Senator Rubio is the grandson of an illegal immigrant, one who — instead of fleeing Cuba’s Communist regime, as Rubio is eager to claim — actually fled the Batista regime in 1956 and became a U.S. permanent resident, but then moved back to Cuba in the days following Castro’s triumph. When Pedro Victor García tried to reassume his permanent residency in 1962, U.S. immigration officials rightly determined that he had given up his legal status when he moved back to Havana and ordered him to be deported. But was Rubio’s grandfather forced to abandon his children in the United States like so many undocumented parents are today? No, he lived in Miami for a few years until the Cuban Adjustment Act was passed in 1966 and he was fast-tracked to permanent residency as a Cuban refugee.
You would think Rubio’s personal story would make him sympathetic to the plight of the 11 million undocumented immigrants trying to eke out a living in the shadows, especially the undocumented parents and grandparents among them. But you would be wrong — Rubio opposes the DREAM Act, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and even Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
Good looking out, Senator.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.