Politics

Rubio still considering Trump-sponsored immigration plan introduced in February

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he supports the Raise Act, a proposal that would cut legal immigration in half and prioritize highly skilled immigrants who speak English. Rubio’s position stands in contrast to other South Florida lawmakers and senators who worked with Rubio to draft a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he supports the Raise Act, a proposal that would cut legal immigration in half and prioritize highly skilled immigrants who speak English. Rubio’s position stands in contrast to other South Florida lawmakers and senators who worked with Rubio to draft a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013. AP

In 2013, Marco Rubio and three other Republican senators worked with Democrats to draft a bipartisan immigration bill.

Rubio’s 2013 bill, which proposed an expanded visa program for low-skilled workers, failed after the House decided not to vote on it.

On Wednesday, Rubio said he was still considering a different immigration proposal, backed by the White House, that cuts the number of green cards for low-skilled and non-English speaking immigrants. The 15-page plan was first introduced in the Senate in February, and the White House announced its support Wednesday.

Of the four Republican senators who drafted the 2013 bill, Rubio is the only one who hasn’t voiced disagreement.

“I’m glad to see the president is open to a step-by-step approach to improving our immigration laws, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues in Congress on common sense proposals to achieve real progress for Americans on this issue,” Rubio said in a statement. “I continue to support reform that prioritizes welcoming people to our country based on their skills, not just on whether they have a family member already living here.”

Rubio’s comments were in contrast to his three GOP colleagues who worked on the immigration bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Trump’s proposal “incentivizes more illegal immigration” by limiting the number of visas for low-skilled jobs in tourism and agriculture that would otherwise go unfilled.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said: “We need to make sure we are responsive to the needs of our economy and I’m concerned that drastic cuts to the number of immigrants fails to meet that goal.”

The other GOP senator who worked on the 2013 bill, John McCain of Arizona, is receiving treatment for cancer. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in February, McCain told reporters he was “not interested” in the bill.

Rubio, whose parents came to the United States from Cuba and worked in low-skill jobs for a period of time, declined to comment on the immigration policy beyond his statement.

His office said Rubio has always prioritized English-speaking immigrants, citing his work on the 2013 bill that would require green card holders to achieve English proficiency.

“On the day we announced the principles that would shape the immigration bill, we made it clear that English proficiency would now be required for permanent residency for the first time in American history,” Rubio said in 2013.

Rubio did not play a role in drafting the new proposal, his office said.

The White House said the plan, dubbed the Raise Act, will prioritize immigrants who speak English, have special skills and can support themselves financially. The Raise Act will prioritize high-wage immigrants because the White House argues that low-skilled legal immigrants currently drive down wages for all Americans.

Two of Rubio’s South Florida colleagues, Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, said they do not support the new legal immigration proposal.

“I’m against the RAISE Act because it dramatically cuts the number of folks who can enter our great nation by legal means,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “There are many individuals living in other lands who dream of becoming patriotic, law-abiding Americans but will be prevented from realizing that dream because they do not yet speak English or they lack special skills.”

“The solution for stagnant wages isn’t reducing legal immigration but reforming an outdated and convoluted tax code that sends jobs overseas,” Curbelo tweeted.

The third Republican in Congress from Miami, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart did not offer an opinion on the proposal.

“The Congressman is traveling and has not had the opportunity to properly review the legislation,” said Diaz-Balart spokeswoman Katrina Valdes.

The Raise Act faces an uncertain future in Congress, as the legislation needs 60 votes to pass the Senate. Republicans control 52 Senate seats, meaning the Raise Act will require bipartisan support.

The current immigration system favors families seeking to reunite with relatives already in the U.S. If passed, the Raise Act would limit the number of green cards awarded each year, cut the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. by half and eliminate a lottery that randomly awards green cards.

Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, the sponsors of the legislation in the Senate, said the Raise Act would reduce the number of foreigners allowed into the U.S. each year from 1 million to 500,000.

Stephen Miller, a senior White House adviser who championed a similar plan for years while working for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, referenced the Mariel boatlift as an example of why it’s important to restrict low-skilled immigrants who aren’t proficient in English.

The 1980 exodus of about 130,000 Cuban refugees was used by Miller as proof that adding low-skilled immigrants to a labor market hurts workers already there.

“We’re constantly told that unskilled immigration boosts the economy,” Miller said in Wednesday’s White House press briefing. “But again, if you look at the last 17 years, we just know from reality that’s not true. And if you look at wages, you can see the effects there. If you look at the labor force, you can see the effects there.”

Miller cited a study from Harvard professor George Borjas that argued the boatlift caused pay among Miami-born high school dropouts to drop by 30 percent. There’s other research that contradicts Borjas’ findings.

When pressed by a reporter for an example beyond the boatlift, Miller did not provide any.

Ros-Lehtinen strongly pushed back on Miller’s argument on Thursday.

“Cubans who came from Mariel have contributed greatly to their new land and specifically our hometown, yet this stereotype of a Scarface Tony Montana continues to falsely haunt them,” she said.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said Sen. Rubio supports the Raise Act immigration bill. The senator’s office said Rubio is still reviewing the legislation.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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