Skip to 4:05 of the clip below for the key bit. CNN calls this “an apparent break” from previous Rubio statements on ending DACA, most notably the one he made to Jorge Ramos in an interview with Univision last year. I can’t tell if it’s a meaningful shift or not, for the simple reason that Rubio is so slippery when talking about this subject that you never know what precisely he has in mind. Here’s what he said in the now-famous Ramos interview, in Spanish, that Ted Cruz has been ripping him for lately. The translation comes from Sarah Rumpf and Breitbart:
DACA [Obama’s amnesty for DREAMers] is going to have to end at some point. I wouldn’t undo it immediately. The reason is that there are already people who have that permission, who are working, who are studying, and I don’t think it would be fair to cancel it suddenly. But I do think it is going to have to end. And, God willing, it’s going to end because immigration reform is going to pass. DAPA hasn’t yet taken effect, and I think it has impeded progress on immigration, on immigration reform. And since that program hasn’t taken effect yet, I would cancel it. But DACA, I think it is important; it can’t be cancelled suddenly because there are already people who are benefitting from it. But it is going to have to end. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States. And I don’t think that’s what they’re asking for, either. I think that everyone prefers immigration reform.
Aha. So DACA’s going to go on under President Rubio indefinitely, if not permanently, unless we get a dubious new immigration reform package in Congress that replaces it with legislation. That sounds like the worst of both worlds for border hawks. If Rubio’s giving us a choice between sticking with Obama’s illegal amnesty or swallowing some new garbage thrown together by the donor class, why on earth would anyone take a chance on him as president?
Last November Rubio backed off one part of that choice. DACA’s going to end whether or not there’s a new immigration deal in Congress, he affirmed. The policy’s going away no matter what — although when it’s going away was again left ominously unclear. Would Rubio blow it up on day one, as Cruz has vowed to do, or would he let it drag on for months or years, hoping against hope that Congress might parachute in with a new comprehensive reform package for him to sign?
Which brings us to today. Unless I missed something, this is indeed the first time Rubio’s suggested he’d “get rid” of DACA on day one too. CNN’s right that that’s a change and it’s proof that Rubio is trying to steer towards Cruz on immigration in the battle for conservative votes. When he says he’ll get rid of it, though, what does he mean? Does he mean he’ll rescind the legal status currently enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of young illegals? Or does he mean he’ll end new enrollments, as my pal Karl suggests? That would be the obvious compromise position for Rubio. The first Latino president doesn’t want to start his term with headlines about him having summarily stripped Latino children of their right to stay in the U.S., but he also can’t disappoint Republican border hawks who are rightly suspicious of his commitment to enforcement after the Gang of Eight. Keeping legal status intact for kids who’ve already enrolled in DACA while closing it off to new enrollees is the obvious solution. That’s what he means, I think, by “getting rid” of it on day one.
But that raises a question, per Greg Sargent: What happens when it comes time for people already enrolled in DACA to renew their enrollment? The program isn’t a permanent grant of amnesty; you need to reapply every two years. Would current enrollees be barred from reapplying under President Rubio’s day-one executive order or would they be grandfathered in and allowed to reapply as needed? Given his interest in brokering an immigration compromise in Congress, Rubio might prefer to see kids tossed off the rolls on a rolling basis to put pressure on Congress to pass something. “Only comprehensive reform can sort out this mess,” he could say. “My hands are tied.” It’s almost impossible to believe we’re not going to get some kind of legislative action on immigration under a Rubio administration. The question is when, and how hard a bargain he’ll drive on enforcement to keep the conservatives he’d need for reelection in 2020 from bolting the party.