After working with seven other senators in the Gang of Eight to produce an immigration reform bill, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is now talking about ramping up the border security provisions of reform, a move aimed at persuading skeptical Republicans to back the bill.
But as Rubio and his Republican colleagues push the border security issue, they risk alienating the very Latino voters they were hoping to mend bridges with by embracing the topic of immigration after the 2012 elections -- a particular problem for Rubio, who is a likely presidential contender in 2016.
A new poll to be released Thursday brings home the predicament for Rubio and his fellow Republicans. The survey of Latino voters by Latino Decisions and previewed by pro-reform group America’s Voice shows that 81 percent of Latino voters want Congress to tackle border security and a path to citizenship at the same time, including 66 percent of Latino Republicans. Just 13 percent of respondents thought Congress should follow Republicans’ preference for securing the border before allowing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to obtain legal status and begin the path toward citizenship.
Though the results are unsurprising, they serve as a reminder that in trying to make reform more palatable to many Republicans, Rubio and his colleagues actually risk worsening their party’s relationship with Latinos. It's a risk Republicans like Rubio have faced since they signed onto the reform effort.
Rubio has set out recently to win over fellow Republicans by proposing in interviews that Congress should set up a plan to secure the border, rather than the Department of Homeland Security, as the Senate bill currently mandates, Politico reported Monday. His comments echo fellow GOP senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, who want Congress to play a role in overseeing border security measures.
This isn’t the first time Rubio has sought conservative support for reform by bucking his colleagues in the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators that drafted the bill. A few months ago, for example, Rubio called for a drawn-out deliberation process, echoing the concerns of his Republican colleagues who argued the legislation would be jammed through the Senate too quickly. But that was followed by an earnest attempt by Rubio to convince his Republican colleagues to support the Gang of Eight’s bill.
This time, it’s unclear how far Rubio will take his latest border security crusade. Without any language for an amendment or bill being put forward, what Rubio is providing right now is rhetorical support for his Republican colleagues. Of course, the danger is that if he pushes too hard, he could set the whole thing back.
“The best outcome for Senator Rubio -- and for Republicans generally -- is for a solid reform bill to pass and for Republicans to get credit for helping to pass it,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement. “If they ask for too much and end up blowing up the carefully negotiated bipartisan bill before the Senate, they will fail to get right with Hispanic voters and deepen their brand as the ‘party of no.’”
Latino Decisions surveyed 500 registered Latino voters between May 25 and June 1. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.