(CNSNews.com) - When former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio was running for the Senate in 2010--as a conservative candidate backed by the Tea Party movement--he insisted that illegal aliens inside the United States would need to go home and that giving illegal aliens "an earned path to citizenship," such as his opponent Gov. Charlie Crist, former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain had advocated, was nothing more than a "code for amnesty."
Rubio, who won that 2010 election, is now the leading Republican in the U.S. Congress pushing for illegal aliens to be given the earned path to citizenship that he himself insisted was "code for amnesty" only three years ago.
Rubio's declaration that to allow illegal aliens to stay in the United States and get on a pathway to citizenship was in fact amnesty came in an Oct. 24, 2010 debate hosted by CNN's Candy Crowley and Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times.
"So, your plan is that you're going to close the borders, get the electronic system, fix the legal system, and then do what?" Crowley asked Rubio in that debate.
"And then you'll have a legal immigration system that works," said Rubio. "And you'll have people in this country that are without documents that will be able to return to the, will be able to leave this country, return to their homeland, and try to re-enter through our system that now functions, a system that makes sense."
Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times then asked of Rubio's opponent, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (a one-time Republican who was running as an independent): "De facto amnesty if you're still not dealing with the illegals who are here?"
Crist responded by endorsing the immigration reform plans previously put forward by President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain--plans that purported to secure the border while giving illegal aliens in the United States "an earned path to citizenship."
"I think what's important is that we have a common sense approach to this problem, like every other in Washington, D.C., that they're unable to fix," said Crist. "And what I think we need to do is what former President Bush supported, Senator John McCain, Senator Mel Martinez, Senator Kyl from Arizona, and others. And that is, first, secure the border. That's the right thing to do. We have to do that to enforce the law.
"After that," said Crist, "I think you have to have an earned path to citizenship, not amnesty, as the speaker [Rubio] has unfairly characterized, in my view. I'm not for amnesty. People should have to get in the back of the line, pay a fine if necessary, their back taxes, and be able to become productive members of the American economy. It's a compassionate way."
CNN's Crowley than asked the third candidate in the debate, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek, what he thought of the issue.
"Candy, I'm glad you checked Mr. Rubio on this whole amnesty issue, because the bottom line is the following," said Meek. "The DREAM Act was up, he said, well, you know, I'm for the DREAM Act but I'm not for the amnesty.
"Well, what did the DREAM Act call for?" Meek asked. "Mr. Speaker, it called for individuals to serve in the military or attend an institution such as this to educate themselves so they don't become wards of the state because, of course, you're not for that. I think it's also important to note this whole thing of kicking the ball down the field, secure our borders, we've been talking about that for 15, 20 years. It's important for us to move toward comprehensive immigration reform."
Shortly after Rep. Meek said this, Candy Crowley gave Rubio another 30 second to respond.
"First of all, earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty. It's what they call it," said Rubio. "And the reality of it is this: This has to do with the bottom line that America cannot be the only country in the world that does not enforce its immigration laws. It is unfair to the people that have legally entered this country to create an alternative pathway for individuals who entered illegally and knowingly did so."
"If you do that, you will never have a legal immigration system that works," said candidate Rubio. "No one is going to follow the law if there is an easier way to do it."