Yesterday afternoon, Senator Marco Rubio spoke with me for a brief interview about immigration and the border crisis, as well as some brief remarks on the repercussions of the Hobby Lobby decision on Capitol Hill. I started off asking what Rubio, a partner to Democrats on the stalled comprehensive immigration reform bill, has been hearing from the White House on the latest border crisis. “They’re not communicating much,” Rubio told me, “other than what you’re hearing in the press — certainly not to me.” The present crisis arose in Honduras and to a lesser extent in El Salvador and Guatemala that the US would not kick out children as long as they got here by August of this year. Some of it is just rumors, Rubio says, but “some of that, I think, is the result of more deferred action,” as well as aggressive tactics by traffickers. That’s pretty easy to do, too, because the economic conditions in those areas are pretty desperate already.
What this demonstrates, Rubio argues, is that the claims from the Obama administration that the border is already secure are simply false. “As it turns out, and as we’ve been saying,” Rubio told me, “at least three sectors of our southern border are not secured. So in fact, people are able to cross.” Thanks to the existing laws on the books, the border crossers know to turn themselves into authorities if they have relatives already in the US, because the Department of Homeland Security will release them into the custody of the families. “It’s amazing, because about two years ago,” Rubio reminds us, “the President went down to El Paso, gave a big speech at the border, where he said [that] the border is secure — and these Republicans that are asking for more, the next thing they’re going to want is a moat, and then a moat with alligators, kind of mocking everybody.”
I asked what all this means for border security and immigration reform. Rubio said it underscores the need for a borders-first process, including a modernized system for legal immigration and enforced employer verification to end the “magnets” that incentivizes illegal immigration. “Until people believe that that this problem is not just under control but actually getting better,” Rubio emphasized, “they’re not going to be willing to talk about anything else when it comes to immigration, and you will never have the votes in Congress to do anything about the problem until you deal with that first.”
Addressing the issue of those already in the country long before this new border crisis is out of the question until those conditions are fully satisfied, Rubio said. “I don’t even think you can begin to have that conversation, much less have the votes for it, until you’ve dealt with part one and part two,” meaning the issues of full border security and the modernization of legal immigration and employer verification.
That brings us to the $3.7 billion funding request from Barack Obama, which Rubio says is mainly a non-sequitur to the crisis. “Very little of it is for actual improvements on the border,” Rubio explained. “There’s even money in there to deal with wildfires, things of that nature.” Some of the funding is necessary for humane care of those being held, reflecting the compassion which Rubio said is part of the American value system, but under current law and the reform package passed by the Senate last year, all of these current detainees would have to be sent home fairly immediately. “If you don’t enforce the law,” Rubio said in agreement with Governor Rick Perry’s comments yesterday, “you are creating an incentive for people to try to come here [illegally].”
On the Hobby Lobby, Rubio’s not sure how serious the effort will be to pass a bill amending the RFRA to restrict religious expression and force business owners to comply. “I have no idea what the prospects are,” Rubio responded, joking that “Harry Reid doesn’t share that information.” He also noted the widely varying reactions to Supreme Court decisions from Democrats, who jeered at ObamaCare critics after the 5-4 decision that upheld by saying that “it’s the law of the land!” It’s a little different reaction when they lose, Rubio pointed out. I also asked about the status of the repeal-and-replace effort for ObamaCare overall, and Rubio replied that Republicans still haven’t settled on one replacement proposal, but that he “expects that we will file” a proposal relatively soon. “Put consumers in charge of health insurance,” Rubio urged in his conclusion, “not lobbyists, not hospitals, not health care industries, and certainly not government.”