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Trying to Unpack What Rubio Is Saying On Immigration – Again

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At last night’s GOP Presidential Debate, Marco Rubio provided another window into his latest thinking on immigration, this time as it relates to “legal immigration.”

Look, in addition to what Donald was saying is we also need to talk about the legal immigration system for permanent residents. Today, we have a legal immigration system for permanent residency that is largely based on whether or not 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 to 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.

As with anything Rubio says about immigration, it requires unpacking. But one thing is obvious from the get-go.  That’s a pretty direct rebuke of his own family’s immigration history. He suggests that family unity should not remain a central value of our immigration system– a pretty extreme position for a man who claims to be pro-immigrant.

So now let’s do the unpacking.  Immigration under a President Rubio would be based on “what skills you have, what you can contribute economically.”  Would a farmworker meet Rubio’s standard?  A bartender?  Or when he’s referring to “skills” are they only the white-collar variety?

On this Rubio is purposely vague.  He uses a Republican code word, “merit-based immigration” which he knows means elite immigration to a group of his base.  He also implies that family unity should no longer be a value of our immigration system, because we need immigrants who want to become Americans, “not just live in America.”

Our “merit-based” program would start with family unity.  We think that keeping families together should be a goal of immigration policy.  In fact in our experience, immigrants with families here do embrace America and love this country just like rest of us.

Rubio’s own family immigration story proves our case. He’s made that story a tenet of his campaign. We know his parents are immigrants and they worked hard. But, now, he’d deny that to other families.

Rubio’s current views on what to do with undocumented immigrants has been the subject of intense media scrutiny – by Seung Min Kim of Politico and and Sabrina Siddiqui at The Guardian and Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC – because Rubio has been evasive and contradictory. Rubio apparently thinks he can use vague code words to send a message to some of the Republican base, but when challenged on that, he’ll provide a new, confusing, or contradictory “clarification.”

Rubio has given the media another opportunity to try to figure out what he means on immigration.

One other thing is clear.  By directly attacking family-based immigration, we can only conclude that Rubio doesn’t share the values or priorities of the immigrant community in America.  Full stop.