Our View: On immigration

Posted: January 30, 2013

From all appearances, Marco Rubio has what everyone most desires in a politician. He’s magnetic, dynamic, handsome, and charismatic. But, as well we know, there’s a lot separating a politician from a genuine statesman.

Again, from all appearances, Florida’s freshman senator has all the makings of the latter. He’s passionate, but his passion is leavened by sincerity and fairness. And, most of all, he’s brave, as demonstrated by his willingness to expend increasing political capital on an issue that finds many members of his Republican Party at odds with each other. He is now the GOP’s point man on immigration reform.

Make no mistake, when five members of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight, a group including a former presidential candidate (John McCain), unveiled the principles — not an outright bill — of a new immigration proposal on Monday, Mr. Rubio was the star of the show. He spoke last; he was the one people most wanted to see, and to hear. Why? This first-generation American, this son of Cuban immigrants, is considered 2016 presidential timber, of a distinctly conservative grain.

The framework presented, viewed as a compromise, contains many of the core principles Mr. Rubio himself laid out in an article for The Wall Street Journal. He’s strong on operational security at the border, strong on a robust E-verify-type system for businesses hiring immigrants, and desires a workable guest-worker program. Still, he has given ground on the most gnawing of problems — what to do with 11 million illegal immigrants.

The agreement he advances, in essence, would blunt charges from fellow Republicans that he seeks “amnesty” for illegals. The path he envisions would require the “undocumented” to come out and register for a special residency visa, pay a fine and back taxes, establish a definitive work history — and then wait in line behind those who’ve taken a legal route on the road to citizenship.

This process, it’s been said, could take as long as 15 years, as well it should. In the interim, these folks would be expected to assimilate — which, in many cases, would require learning English, as earlier generations of immigrants earnestly have.

This, in our opinion, could lay the groundwork for a fair and compassionate resolution of this vexing problem. But we harbor no illusions. At any time, Mr. Rubio’s visionary plan may be sidetracked, overhauled, even mutilated.

Fellow conservatives, appreciating the cover he’s given them, should come along, following his lead. Democrats, particularly those inhabiting the West Wing, are a different story. Especially a president who must decide whether he wants to share a legacy of genuine achievement, or lead Republicans on a merry chase in hopes of skewering them, his political opposition. On Thursday, we’ll discuss President Obama’s “reform” principles, announced Tuesday.