--Republican strategist Haley Barbour, co-chair of the GOP’s 2012 campaign review and blueprint for the future
Marco Rubio is most likely to contend for the 2016 Republican nomination for president, and may be the early favorite. It helps to have Haley Barbour already offering him advice.
Cuban-American Rubio, senator from our by-2016 third-largest state and the most competitive state in 2012, is above all the potential face of a party that desperately needs minority--especially Hispanic--votes. He offers the possibility of providing Republicans the additional votes they need in 2016 in the manner minority candidate Barack Obama offered Democrats new voters in 2008.
But Rubio can’t just be a “brown” face. He needs accomplishments. Most especially, he needs to lead on immigration reform. And in that effort, he will face obstacles and frustrations every step of the way from Democrats, determined to stop the Hispanic’s political advance. It already happened last Summer, when Rubio attempted to float a compromise “Dream Act” proposal that would allow the children of (mostly Hispanic) illegals to remain in the U.S.
We are facing a new situation, in that Republicans did nothing to stop Obama during 2008 Democratic primaries, while Democrats will go all-out to block Rubio from achieving the 2016 GOP nomination. Still, Rubio has to try to lead, and to work with Democrats. And I believe he is off to a good start with his comprehensive immigration reform proposal, floated in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal.
Here’s a summary of what I call Rubio’s “5-point” immigration reform plan (the quotes are all Rubio’s words):
- "modernize" legal immigration. America caps the number of visas for skilled workers and favors the relatives of people already here. "I'm a big believer in family-based immigration. But I don't think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5% of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill. We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration."
- Most of the 1.6 million agricultural laborers in America are illegal immigrant Hispanics. American produce couldn't be picked without them. The number and type of visas provided through a guest-worker program should be sufficient to meet the need for permanent or seasonal farm workers. "The goal is to give American agriculture a reliable work force and to give protection to these workers as well. When someone is [undocumented] they're vulnerable to being exploited."
- A national E-Verify law, already adopted in several states, would require employers to check the legal status of prospective workers against a federal database. Modern technology ought to let employers easily check whether their hires are in the country legally. Enforcement is meant not to "punish" but to provide employers a "safe haven.” As for the border, "we know what we need to do to gain more operational control" by investing in people and infrastructure.
- Regarding illegal immigrants already here, "they would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check." Anyone who committed a serious crime would be deported. "They would be fingerprinted. . . They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they've been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay." The waiting time for a green card "would have to be long enough to ensure that it's not easier to do it this way than it would be the legal way. But it can't be indefinite either.”
- Rubio makes an exception for the over one million younger illegals, along the lines of the Dream Act. People who came here with their illegal parents should move toward naturalization "in a more expedited manner than the rest of the population.”