Wednesday evenings GOP debate will probably be best remembered for the Republican candidates tearing apart the CNBC moderators, or for Rubio getting the best of his mentor Jeb Bush in a memorable exchange over Rubio’s Senate voting record. Yet, one of the most significant moments of the debate may have been Marco Rubio’s mostly unnoticed attack on the immigration policy that brought his parents to America.
Given a chance to expound upon his position on immigration, Rubio took the opportunity to argue that the policy that brought his parents here should be changed to meet the realities of the 21st century. Rubio explained:
Look, in addition to what Donald was saying is we also need to talk about the legal immigration system for permanent residents. Today, we have a legal immigration system for permanent residency that is largely based on whether or not you have a relative living here. And that’s the way my parents came legally in 1956.
But in 2015, we have a very different economy. Our legal immigration system from now on has to be merit-based. It has to be based on what skills you have, what you can contribute economically, and most important of all, on whether or not you’re coming here to become an American, not just live in America, but be an American.
Keep in mind that Marco Rubio’s father was a bartender and his mother was a housekeeper at a hotel after they emigrated from Cuba. They came to the United States before the Cuban Revolution so they weren’t political refugees either.
By arguing that the United States needs to shifts from a system that is based on whether a person has a relative living in the United States, to a merit system based on economic contribution, Rubio is essentially arguing that America should no longer admit people like his parents.
Merit-based immigration systems award points based on the expected economic contribution of the immigrants. In other words, high tech workers, doctors and other people with highly specialized skill sets are awarded high point scores and admitted, whereas workers in less specialized, lower paying occupations like bartenders and housekeepers are usually denied legal immigration status.
Marco Rubio’s parents made it here under a legal immigration system that isn’t rigidly merit-based. Now that he has reaped the benefits of that legal immigration policy, Rubio wants to slam the door on other families who could benefit from the same policy. Like Ben Carson wanting to gut the programs that helped him rise out of poverty and become a successful surgeon, Marco Rubio wants to end the immigration policy that helped his family build the American dream from the bottom up.
Marco Rubio’s immigration policy perfectly encapsulates the Republican Party’s hypocrisy. Now that he has benefited from our nation’s legal immigration policy, he wants to slam the door shut behind him, so others do not have the same opportunity as he and his family were given.
Senator Rubio could learn empathy from the Democrats. As Michelle Obama said of her husband at the 2012 Democratic Convention:
And he [President Obama] believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.
Marco Rubio however wants to slam the door behind him, preventing other immigrants from the opportunities that were given to his family. Rubio wants to be president after all, and helping working class immigrants come to America won’t further his personal ambitions, so he has no use for them.