(CNSNews.com) -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) did not directly answer a question put to him Monday about whether a path to citizenship for illegal aliens would spur or inhibit economic growth, but he did say that "the core" of the U.S. immigration system needs to be merit based.
At the Kemp Forum on True Growth at Google Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Monday, CNSNews.com asked Rubio, “Do you believe that putting illegal aliens on a path to citizenship, would that be a net spur or inhibitor of economic growth?”
“The core of our immigration system in the 21st century has to be merit based,” said Rubio. “Individuals that are coming to the U.S. to work, particularly in specialized fields, or to invest, or to innovate, or help grow, and I think perhaps that’s the most fundamental reform that we need to make.”
“I think the broader point that you were asking is, is immigration good for America or not,” he said. “I think the answer is, it is generally good if it’s done appropriately, particularly in the 21st century, if it is the kind of immigration that will bring to the country--there will always be an element of people that are coming for family unification and there will always be an element of asylum and people seeking freedom--but the core of our immigration system in the 21st century has to be merit based.”
“We have a broken legal immigration system and the legal system is actually something that could help our economy grow but it has to be changed from our current system,” said the senator. “The second issue we have to face is, like every sovereign country on the planet, we have a right to enforce our immigration laws, but we do not have in place mechanisms that do that effectively.”
Sen. Rubio compared the immigration system to a hotel where people only checked in and never checked out.
“For example, imagine if you owned a hotel where you only checked people in but you never check anyone out?” he said. “Well, that’s what we have in our immigration system. We only track people when they enter the country, but we do not have an effective way of determining when people leave or if they leave at all.”
“So that now means close to 40 percent of those here illegally, enter legally and overstayed,” said Rubio. “There are sectors of the southern border that remain insecure and people continue to be trafficked across the borders, in addition to drugs and guns and all sorts of other things. And our employers do not have a reliable way to determine who they are hiring and whether that person is legally here and capable of employment because that’s the largest magnet of all.”
The senator from Florida continued, “And then last, but not least, you have 12 million human beings living in the United States that are here illegally – and that’s the part that’s most complicated politically. Because, on the one hand, there is no serious effort out there that you’re going to round up 12 million people. But how do you figure out who those 12 million people are, which ones get to stay, and which ones get to leave, and those that are going to get to stay, what sort of consequences will there be for violating the law? Because no one has the right to come here illegally.”
“And that’s what I think has been a challenge politically to work through,” he said. “Primarily because the argument I most primarily hear now is you’re going to go and legalize all those people but you’re never gonna’ put enforcement mechanisms in place. It’s the same argument you hear about tax increases versus spending cuts. They say, and this has proven to be true, the spending cuts get reduced over the years as future congresses work on it, but the taxes stay in place.”
“I do believe that if we can reform our legal immigration system and we can improve and put in place a better enforcement mechanism,” said Rubio. “I think it will become a lot easier, not easy, but easier to address that problem of those that are here illegally.”
In late 2013, House Republicans were talking about trying to pass some form of “comprehensive” immigration reform but that idea soured by early 2014. In the first week of February, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said immigration reform “needs to be dealt with” and “needs to get done.”
However, he also said, “one of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust,” in regards to the Obama administration. “And the American people, including many of my members, don't trust that the reform that we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be. The president seems to change the health care law on a whim whenever he likes.”
“[T]here’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” said Boehner. “And it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."