Florida Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to tell lawmakers what legislation he’d be willing to sign to allow immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to stay, now that his administration has decided to wind down the executive program that protected them from deportation.
“Congress has to act,” Rubio said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “But on this matter, the White House and the president will have to lead.”
In his first public remarks about the end of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the Republican senator said he’s been reassured in private conversations with the White House that Trump wants Congress to help the so-called “Dreamers” — and not just let their work permits and deportation protection expire.
“This is not something he really wants to do,” Rubio said of Trump. “He kind of finds himself in a situation, from a constitutional and legal perspective, where he has to address it.”
Rubio argued that DACA, challenged in court by attorneys general from 10 states, would likely have been ruled unconstitutional in a few months and left the nearly 800,000 people who have benefited from the program immediately unprotected. When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that DACA would be rescinded, he included a six-month wind-down period that gives Congress room to legislate.
“The idea that we could have somehow continued it in perpetuity isn’t true. It’s on very shaky constitutional ground,” Rubio said. “There were some advocating for its immediate cancellation. The only reason to put the six-month period in place is to give Congress opportunity to address this.”
He has yet to sign on to any of the existing Republican proposals to protect DACA recipients, including one filed by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Rubio said he spoke to Curbelo on Monday but insisted that Trump needs to first make his legislative criteria known.
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been a frequent target of pro-immigration activists who frequently demonstrate outside his Doral office. He defended his decision of issuing no public statements on DACA ahead of Tuesday’s announcement by saying Trump’s White House is more amenable to private attempts at persuasion. He said he spoke to Chief of Staff John Kelly about DACA on Friday.
“I have found, over the last six months, that, for the most part on key issues of importance to Florida and to me personally, I’ve had more success communicating directly with the administration than I’ve had with tweets and press releases,” Rubio said. “I have had a receptive ear to ideas and input. What I’m interested in is not how many press releases I put out about that, but it’s about getting to a positive result.”
Rubio spoke sympathetically about DACA recipients, calling them the type of immigrants — educated, employed, English-speaking — that both he and Trump have said the U.S. should give preference to under a more merit-based immigration system.
“I grew up in South Florida,” he said, “in a state where you interact with people who found themselves in this circumstance, with people who didn’t even know they were here illegally until they tried to go to college — who were brought here at 4 years old and don’t speak Spanish.”
“These are people that have grown up in the United States, many of whom have advanced degrees, that are gainfully employed and speak English,” he added. “In fact, for many of them, it’s the only language they speak.”
Congress has less than six months to help them, Rubio said, because otherwise, expiring DACA permits could disrupt the economy.
“Think about a third-grade teacher who right now is teaching in a classroom. Six months from now, it’s the middle of the school year, and they suddenly have to stop working?” he said. “And no one’s going to hire you knowing that in six months you could be out of status, from a permit perspective.”
In 2012, Rubio worked on his own legislation dealing with Dreamers, but it never resulted in a filed bill before President Barack Obama created DACA. Rubio was one of the “Gang of Eight” members who proposed comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, resulting in conservative backlash.
“I know how difficult it is. I know how highly charged immigration can be as an issue. I know how difficult it can be to narrowly address one piece of the puzzle. So I’m concerned about those things,” he said. “I’m concerned that an effort to help these young people might be turned into a vehicle for, ‘I’ll only vote for this if I can get this. Or if I can get that.’
“The only way this works is if it’s focused and narrowly tailored to the problem at hand — and if it’s something the White House is willing to sign and support.”