- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he tried to produce the most conservative immigration bill that was possible in a Democratic-controlled Senate, and he thought a GOP-controlled House would make it even better, but that a lack of trust in the federal government helped doom the 2013 push on the issue.

“I live in a state that’s deeply impacted by immigration, and I was trying to make a difference,” Mr. Rubio said on Monday evening’s “Hannity” program on Fox News. “I was trying to produce the most conservative bill possible in a Senate controlled by Democrats and had hoped a more conservative House would make it even better.”

“What we underestimated is how much people distrust the federal government,” said Mr. Rubio, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate. “It’s not enough to just pass a law that says, ‘We’re [going to] build a wall.’ They want you to actually build the wall, and then they’ll let you move forward on the other things.”

Mr. Rubio was part of a “Gang of Eight” that crafted a sweeping bill in 2013 that would have granted most of the illegal immigrants in the country an eventual pathway to citizenship and would have beefed up security on the U.S.-Mexico border. It passed the Senate but failed to get anywhere in the Republican-controlled House.

“So we reached [a] point in that debate where people were saying to us, it doesn’t matter what the law says you’re going to do or make them do — they won’t do it,” he said. “The federal government will just ignore it.”

One of Mr. Rubio’s 2016 GOP rivals, businessman Donald Trump, has called the Florida senator weak on immigration. Mr. Trump has pledged to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and says he’ll get Mexico to pay for it.

President Obama has tried to go around Congress on the issue through executive action, but he has run into trouble in the courts. A federal appeals court in Texas ruled Monday that Mr. Obama’s most recent effort to grant up to 5 million illegal immigrants work permits and deportation amnesty is likely illegal.

“And so what I’ve learned from that experience is that the only way forward on immigration isn’t just to pass enforcement bills, but to actually do it,” Mr. Rubio said. “You’re going to have to prove to the American people, not just that E-Verify has been implemented, not just that [an] entry-exit tracking system is implemented, and not just that the wall has been built — you’re going to have to prove that it’s working, that illegal immigration numbers have come substantially down.”

“And if we do that, then I think people are going to be very reasonable about how we modernize legal immigration so that it’s more about merit than about [a] family basis,” he said.

Mr. Rubio said he’d be open to letting people apply for a green card after 10 years if they have passed background checks, learned English, and paid a fine and taxes.

“In the 21st century, people should be coming here on the basis of what they can do, what skills they have — not whether or not you have a relative living here,” he said. “That’s a dramatic and important change for us to make because it reflects the realities of the 21st century economy.”

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