The Republican Senate candidate belatedly came out against Arizona’s draconian immigration law, on the same day his mentor and political patron Jeb Bush did, becoming one of only a handful of Republicans to do so. But now, Rubio seems to have changed his mind. In an interview with the right wing magazine Human Events (home to, among other columnists, anti-migrant zealot Pat Buchanan,) Rubio sought to “clarify” his stance, which used to include citing worries that the law could turn Arizona into a “police state.” Asked by the magazine’s Jason Mattera if he supports the Arizona law now that it has been amended, Rubio gave a rambling answer about it being a public safety issue, more than an immigration issue, before Mattera pinned him down:
Jason Mattera: … Now that the Arizona legislature has amended the law so that police can only question a person’s legal status if there’s a lawful stop, detention, or arrest. Have your thoughts or feelings changed?
Marco Rubio: Well, I congratulate them on doing that. As I’ve learned in my time in the state legislature, often important legislation is always a work in progress. They were quick to recognize some potential pitfalls. And it didn’t surprise me that they did because, as I said in my statement, I never believed that their intent was anything other than public safety.
And although others have used this to create political hay, I was in Arizona a little under two months ago. People there had told me when I was there for a finance event, had shared with me how concerned they were about the unfortunate violence in Mexico now spreading across the border into their cities and into their state. And so this is inevitable. …
JM: If you were in the Arizona state legislature, would you have voted for the law?
MR: The second one that passed hit the right note. Yes.
JM: The first time around, would you have?
MR: Well, I would have wanted to see changes like the ones that were made because I know that that’s not the intent of the bill. We’re always concerned. I mean no one is in favor of a bill that would force American citizens to have to interact with law enforcement in a way that wasn’t appropriate. And the first bill I thought held that door open.
Since then, the changes that have been made to the bill I think greatly improve it. Understand that what Arizona is facing is different from anything Florida has ever faced. Arizona has a physical border with Mexico. And there is kidnappings, human trafficking, drug wars coming across that border into an American city. Frankly, very few states in the country can imagine what that’s like.
Mattera then asked whether Rubio favors “creating a path for citizenship for the millions who are here.” Rubio’s answer went straight for the base:
MR: Well, we have a path for citizenship. It’s called coming legally into this country. The ones who are already here. You can’t do it. Look, let me say two things about it. Number one is I think that the vast majority of the people that are in this country illegally, whether they entered illegally and overstayed their visas, they’re here because they want to provide their families with opportunity. I get that. I understand that. And I know that because I know people in that status.
That being said, America cannot be the only country in the world that does not observe or enforce its immigration laws. A key part of your sovereignty is the ability to control the influx and out flow of your people is the ability to secure your border. And you’re never going to be able to do that if you have an immigration system that says ‘come to this country illegally. If you’re able to stay here long enough, you’re able to stay here forever.’ And you’re never going to have a legal immigration system that works if you grant amnesty.
And that’s why I’ve always believed that, no matter how well-intentioned it is. I understand the human stories that we’re going to…We’re gonna….There are going to be stories of very young kids that were brought to this country at a very young age who don’t even speak Spanish that are going to be sent back to Nicaragua or some other place. And it’s gonna feel weird and I understand that. The goal here is to have an immigration policy that works. And if you provide a path for people to enter this country illegally and if they stay here long enough and pay enough in taxes, well let them stay legally…why would anyone come in through the legal process?
Rubio may be responding to a new Rasmussen robopoll that found that 61 percent of the 500 Floridians who stayed on the phone with the robot favor an Arizona-style immigration law for the sunshine state. (Republicans tend to have a lot of faith in Rasmussen polls, for obvious reasons.) And he is clearly looking to clean up his one Achilles heel with the right — immigration (they don’t care if he blows donor money) after getting attacked by such VIPs as Ann Coulter and fellow tea party darling Allen West. He has tried to clean it up before, even criticizing the late Ronald Reagan for signing an amnesty bill in the 1980s and saying, bizarrely, that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be counted on the Census. (Charlie Crist still has up his “Rubio waffles on ‘illegals’” page on his website, which could prove problematic for him as he wooes Democrats, given the right wing lingo on the page …) And it’s not surprising that his change of position came in an interview with a far right mag. But what will Rubio say in a general election debate, or when he’s “reaching for the middle” and trying to prove how “mainstream” he is? And will Rubio’s stance hurt him with fellow Hispanic voters in Florida, some of whom, including within the Cuban-American community, aren’t necessarily as fond of him as people outside Florida think?
Rubio has clearly decided that his future lies with anti-immigrant white voters, moreso than with Hispanic or moderate voters (Central Florida’s population is heavily Puerto Rican, and there are also lots of Floridians with backgrounds from Colombia and Venezuela, in addition to Cuban-Americans. It’s unclear how many of the latter two are citizens and/or registered voters, but I’d wager the majority of Hispanics in Florida of all backgrounds feel much the way Hispanics nationwide do about the Arizona law. Rubio apparently excepted.)
The plot thickens …