Rubio: The only way to incentivize border enforcement is to hold up the green-card process

While confusion continues to reign over the border-enforcement mechanisms in the Gang of Eight immigration-reform proposal, its most critical proponent continued to insist yesterday that a lack of a robust trigger on border security was a deal killer.  Marco Rubio took his case to Sean Hannity, who asked (as I did yesterday) whether Rubio would oppose his own compromise plan if the commission-certification trigger was watered down or removed.  Rubio committed again to opposition by saying that it would “absolutely” be a deal-killer:

Rubio: “That’s why the details are so important of how you write it. You’re absolutely right. This is a town where they write things that are called something, but that’s not what it is. So it has to be important. Look, you said something in your outline that is very important. I don’t want to ever have to do this again. But that’s what is going to happen if all we do is the legalization part and we don’t do the enforcement part. And the only way that I know to incentivize the enforcement part is to say that the green card stuff doesn’t even begin to happen until the enforcement happens first. That trigger is critically important, otherwise it will never happen. That’s why we are where we are today. Because when they did this in 1986, they did not do the enforcement, and that led to 11 million people. We will be right back here again in ten years or less if we don’t do the enforcement.”

Hannity: “Can I characterize that, if you don’t get enforcement first, or securing the borders first, is that a deal killer for you?”

Rubio: “Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Because we will be right back here again. I want to deal with this permanently. And by the way, I think the vast majority of people in both parties would agree with me on that point. No one ever wants to have to do this again. I mean, no one is happy about the fact that we have 11 million people here who are undocumented. This is something that should never ever happen again. But the decisions that were made that led to this happened when I was in ninth grade. That was a long time ago. And now we have to deal with it so that it never happens again.”

The confusion isn’t just contained to the Right, nor the concern over this point.  Greg Sargent reports that Democrats from the Gang of Eight have become just as evasive as some of the Republicans while Rubio publicly insists that the package will require commission approval before the normalization can proceed:

On CBS this morning, John McCain said the “final decision” about whether the border is secure will be made by the Department of Homeland Security, which suggests a diminished role for this commission, while remaining inconclusive on precisely how this process will work. But in an interview with Ed Morrissey late yesterday, Marco Rubio suggested he won’t support a path to citizenship unless the commission does sign off on border security, a position he reiterated in another interview. There’s no clear agreement even among Republicans about the role of this commission.

Meanwhile, Dem Senate aides tell me that the commission’s role is designed to be purely advisory and nonbinding. At the same time, Chuck Schumer’s office declined to respond to my request for clarification on this point.

Can we get a straight answer on this, please? This question is viewed as critical by people on both sides of the debate. Yet Senators appear to want to keep the answer to this question vague. Which tells us something about the politics of this fight — and about just how difficult the prospects for reform remain.

Judging by Rubio’s response to this question, it’ll be hard for Republicans to support reform that doesn’t require a security seal of approval from border state officials. This reflects pressure from the right on Republicans to demand an extremely heavy emphasis on enforcement in the plan. (See Conn Carroll pushing Rubio on this point.)

We probably won’t get a straight answer until we see the legislative language, and that will be a few weeks off.  However, Rubio is raising the bar on this issue in a very public manner, and even McCain’s answer suggests that the commission might have to pass the question to DHS before a decision can be made.  As Rubio and Hannity both agree, the devil is in the details.