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Even Supposedly Pro-Immigrant GOP Contenders Rubio and Bush Caught in “Toxic” Anti-Immigrant Undertow

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Down the line, the Republican presidential field is moving further to the right on immigration policy and politics.  While polling frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson have offered the most chilling and explicitly anti-immigrant paeans to the nativist wing of the party, even supposedly pro-reform candidates like Senator Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are getting caught in the nativist undertow.

See below for new examples from this week:

Senator Rubio Shifts Right and States that Debate Over Legalization/Citizenship for the 11 Million Won’t Even Start While He is President

Speaking to Fox News’s Sean Hannity this week, Senator Rubio made clear yesterday that he would kick the can down the road on the central component of the immigration debate – what policy to advance for 11 million undocumented immigrants – until even well after a potential two-term Rubio presidency.  When asked by Hannity about his policy vision for the 11 million, Sen. Rubio said:

“I don’t think it’s a decision you have to make on the front end.  The first two things you have to do is stop illegal immigration, then second you have to modernize our legal immigration system, and then third you can have a debate about how to even legalize people to begin with.  And then ultimately in 10 or 12 years you could have a broader debate about how has this worked out and should we allow some of them to apply for green cards and eventually citizenship.”

We’ve long disagreed with the notion that Rubio has been serious or consistent on immigration reform, viewing his embrace of the “secure the border first” talking point as an excuse for inaction rather than a serious policy proposal.  It gives a policy-sounding argument to continually move the “what a secure border looks like” goalposts so that nothing is done for 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in our nation, while also relying on the false “out of control border” meme that is contrary to the true facts about border security and immigration trends.  Yet his new comments are an important, if subtle, shift from his well-worn talking points and now explicitly acknowledge that the policy debate regarding what to do for the 11 million may not even occur until after he would leave the White House.

Previously, Senator Rubio had emphasized that, once the border was secure, undocumented immigrants could access the legalization/citizenship process after approximately a decade (meaning that while the policy would not be available or implemented until a decade down the road, the decision to do so would have already been made).   For example, during an earlier, April 2015 interview with Hannity, Rubio stated:

“[A]fter we’ve proven illegal immigration is not going to happen in the future, that we have systems in place to keep that from happening. You have to come forward, undergo a background check, pay a fine, start paying taxes, and what you would get is a work visa that allows you to be in this country to work and to travel, and that’s all you should be allowed to have for at least a decade or longer. And after that, they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency like anybody else would…”

Now, he’s saying that the very debate about what policy to advance for 11 million may have to wait for 10-12 years, when he is conveniently out of office.  That is the definition of inaction and an abject failure of leadership.  

Jeb Bush Blasts “Multicultural Society” and Justifies Critique By Emphasizing Slow Assimilation – On Same Day National Academies Report Shows the Opposite is True

Per Thomas Beaumont of the Associated Press, Bush said in Iowa yesterday:

“We should not have a multicultural society … When you create pockets of isolation — and in some places the process of assimilation has been retarded because they’ve slowed down — it’s wrong … It limits people’s aspirations.” 

This is a departure for a candidate who has long emphasized his own multicultural roots – for example, Bush told Telemundo earlier this year, “We eat Mexican food in the home.  My children are Hispanic in many aspects.  We don’t talk about it, but the Hispanic influence is an important part of my life.”  Further, his critique that assimilation is going slowly is directly at odds with the new National Academies report demonstrating that new waves of immigrant are actually assimilating into American society as rapidly as previous generations of immigrants. 

At its most generous interpretation, this is an in-artful comment by Bush trying to make a nuanced point about culture – and one that is incorrect, per the National Academies study.  At worst, this is a purposeful attempt by Bush to pander to voters concerned about the changing demographics of America while campaigning in a state whose caucuses are dominated by older white voters.  Either way, it’s another in a string of policy positions and remarks that show that Bush is drifting right and emphasizing harder-edged positions (witness his release of a six part immigration plan entirely comprised of enforcement details; his backtracking on a path to citizenship; and his pledge to end both the DACA and DAPA executive action programs in the first three months of his presidency). 

Meanwhile, more and more observers are highlighting that the GOP as a whole is dangerously close to repeating Mitt Romney’s “original sin” from 2012 – tacking right in the primary on immigration, alienating Latino voters in the process, and destroying their general election chances as a result.  As Karen Tumulty and Jose DelReal write in a Washington Post story titled, “Shrill Rhetoric In the GOP Primary Race Could Come Back To Haunt The Party,”: 

“It wasn’t so long ago that Republicans were congratulating themselves for having put forward the most diverse group of presidential candidates from either political party, ever.

But the message Americans are hearing from the 2016 GOP field is sounding more and more exclusionary.

… Ultimately, the party’s message will be shaped by its nominee, and there are still more than four months to go before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.

However, many Republicans worry that the image of these early months will last.

‘This year is different, and what is happening now is leaving a searing impression,’ said Peter Wehner, who headed the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives under President George W. Bush. ‘This is toxic for the Republican Party — potentially lethal for it.’

The leading candidates, Wehner added, are ‘sending a message in bright, Trump-like lights to nonwhite voters that they are not welcome.’”