Want to Thank Someone for Obama's Immigration Move? Thank Marco Rubio

The Florida senator has been a leader in pushing the GOP toward a more open stance, and pioneered the plan the president announced today.

Marco RubioGetty

The administration's announcement that it would suspend the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were born abroad and came to the United States without authorization as kids has immigration advocates showering hosannas on President Obama. There is another politician, though, who deserves quite a bit of credit for the administration's move: Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

Two months ago, Rubio floated a watered down version of the so-called DREAM Act -- and the administration this morning essentially made it the law of the land (at least temporarily).

The original bill would have put immigrants on a path to citizenship if they arrived in America as minors and were pursuing higher education or had joined the military. Under Rubio's plan, immigrants who were pursuing higher education wouldn't get a green card, but could apply for two-year work visas, which could be renewed in perpetuity. The senator also would have offered citizenship to immigrants who served in the military.

President Obama isn't in a position to bestow citizenship on thousands without approval from the U.S. Congress -- and despite repeated tries, the DREAM Act has never made it past the Senate. Otherwise, though, what Rubio proposed was basically what the Department of Homeland Security announced as official policy Friday.

What Rubio proposed was basically what the Department of Homeland Security announced as official policy Friday.

When Rubio floated his proposal, it generated excitement in the immigration reform world. There was no way the original DREAM Act was going to pass the current Congress, and the fact that the GOP's premier Hispanic politician was proposing a way to break the logjam breathed life into a moribund effort. Because every year immigrants are "aging out" of being DREAM Act eligible (only those 30 or under can apply), not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands of men and women were living under the threat of deportation, the lack of momentum had a real human cost.

Personally, I wasn't one of the admirers of Rubio's plan. As I wrote earlier in The Atlantic, the "half a loaf" option -- you guys can stay, but without a path to citizenship -- could trap hundreds of thousands of young people in an underclass. A look at the experiences of countries like Germany and Austria makes the perils of that model apparent.

Rubio won paeans to his political courage for pushing the conversation forward from some immigration reform advocates. It was, however, an arguably necessary move if he wanted to position himself as the man in the GOP who could make inroads with Latino voters. Rubio is smart and articulate, but the reason the 40-year-old is being touted as a veep contender just two years after entering the U.S. Senate is because of his Cuban immigrant parentage and position representing Florida. Still, he's spoken of immigrants in compassionate terms, describing how he would tell his Republican colleagues that "people who enter this country illegally do so because they are looking for a better life."

Presented by

Alexandra Starr is an Emerson fellow at the New America Foundation.

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