Marco Rubio: GOP Must Be the ‘Pro-Legal Immigration Party’

By Christopher Goins | November 10, 2011 | 5:58 PM EST

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) talks with Customs and Border Protection officials along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: Sen. Rubio’s Web site)

( – The Republican Party must be seen favoring legal immigration, rather than being known for its stance against illegal immigration, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Thursday.

Calling for a modernization of federal immigration laws, the freshman Republican added that the GOP should be known for what it stands for, not for what it is against.

Rubio, who is widely viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party, made his remarks at the 2011 National Lawyers Convention, after delivering a speech about American exceptionalism.

Responding to a question on immigration from an audience member, he said, “Once again, this is about false choices that are presented to us in the modern political paradigm.”

“We are told by many that the only choices we have are, we are either for immigration or we are against immigration. And I have always told the Republican Party that – and I’m starting to say it even more – that we must be the party of legal immigration.”

“The Republicans can’t be the anti-illegal immigration party,” he continued. “It has to be the pro-legal immigration party. And I would hope that we are entering an era where Republicans don’t just talk about what we are against. We actually start pointing to things that we are for – that honor our heritage, but also as a nation of laws.”

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Rubio said modernizing federal immigration laws should result in a system that looks at the U.S. economy and evaluates the country’s needs.

“They should be modernized,” he said. “They should be take into account the 21st century is not the 20th and certainly not the 19th.”

He stressed that the U.S. must also enforce its immigration laws.

Rubio highlighted the need for visa reform, and quipped that wealthy immigrants should be made welcome: “If you have a million dollars and you want to create jobs in America we should probably try to figure out a way to get you here.”

“Here’s another thing that doesn’t make not a lot of sense to me,” he continued. “If a kid is in our colleges and they graduate – now if they’re seven foot one and can dunk a basketball, you know we are going to keep him. But if he’s got a 4.0 in science, math or technology, we are going to send him home after we spent all that money in our universities to educate them and at our schools?”

The United States also needs an functional agricultural guest worker program, Rubio said.

“In the 21st century, you are telling me we can’t create a system where … a farmer or someone else says, ‘Look, I need 15 workers this fall’ and people can apply in their home country?”

He spelled out his views on how the process should work.

“They’re checked. They get a tamper-proof of identification card. They enter the United States. We technologically log that. They work nine, twelve months – whatever the time period is,” he said.

“They go back to their country when they’re done so they can be with their families. And next year if we need them again they come back again. Other countries do that. Why can’t we do that?”