Has Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., promised one kind of immigration reform in English — and something else in Spanish?
A Republican congressman from Orange County, Calif., recently accused Rubio of contradicting his pledge to put border security before legalization for undocumented immigrants.
Rubio "all along has been saying, 'We have to have border security first,’ " Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told conservative WND Radio on June 16, 2013. "And then, he, you know, when he gets on Spanish TV, he ends up saying, 'No, no. That will never get in the way' or, 'Legalization status isn't contingent on border control.' Well, this is outrageous, and no one should believe him."
At the heart of the claim, according to Rohrabacher’s office, is Rubio’s June 9 Spanish-language interview on Univision’s Al Punto.
The eight-minute back-and-forth between Rubio and host Maria Elena Salinas made headlines across conservative media. "Marco Rubio: In immigration reform, legalization comes first — ‘It is not conditional,’ " said one headline from the Washington Examiner. "Rubio: Legalization first, border security whenever," said another from Human Events.
Other conservative media offered a different take, such as a piece in the Daily Caller: "No, Rubio isn’t telling Spanish and English audiences different things."
Rubio’s own website says, "The most important thing that happens on day one is that the toughest border security and enforcement plan in American history will be the law of the land."
Has Rubio told two different stories about the Senate’s immigration bill?
Steps to legality
What’s going on here?
We watched Rubio’s Univision interview, read transcripts in English and Spanish, and scouted his past comments to English-language audiences, such as interviews on Fox News and the Rush Limbaugh Show.
In each, he described the bill’s multistep process. The government must submit to Congress a plan to secure the border. No earlier than that, it may begin processing applications from immigrants in the country illegally to get provisional status, a process that includes fines and a background check. Only when that border security plan has been substantially implemented may immigrants with provisional status apply for green cards.
But while Rubio explained the same plan to each interviewer, he also tailored his language to address their concerns.
In interviews with Limbaugh and Fox News host Sean Hannity, he focused on steps that must be achieved before immigrants are eligible to apply for green cards, which grant permanent legal status. On Univision, he focused on the provisional status process that begins at the same time that a plan to secure the border is submitted.
For example, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity in January that enforcement would need to be in place, not just at the border but also for the visa system and in the workplace, "before there’s a path to a green card."
Hannity noted that lawmakers’ framework for the immigration bill "said simultaneously." Rubio explained:
"Here is what happens, when you're undocumented, you have to come forward and identify yourself and you're going to be fingerprinted and have a background check done. You're going to have to pay taxes and fines and what you get is a nonimmigrant visa, a nonimmigrant visa, a work permit to stay in the country and you don't qualify for any federal benefits under that.
"You don't get federal benefits. During the same time, they're going to have to stay in this process for a significant period of time. While they're in that process is when all of this security stuff needs to happen. After a number of years have gone by and the security enforcement stuff is in place, then the second phase begins.
"Which would give the people an opportunity to apply for a green card, the same way that everybody else does, not the special way, which means you have to stand in line with everyone in line, and apply, and in essence we're giving people the opportunity to earn the chance to do this the way they should have done it to begin with.
"That's why they say simultaneous, and when you're in the probationary period that's when this is happening."
Rubio had a similar exchange with Limbaugh in April, in which he walked the radio host through the different steps of implementation. He also offered such explanations to Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs, and repeatedly to Hannity.
That sets up this month’s Spanish-language interview.
On Univision’s Al Punto, Salinas pressed Rubio on how he would attract 60 votes. He answered that he would earn his colleagues’ trust by making sure "that the border is secure and that another wave of illegal migration doesn’t take place in the future."
(The English-language quotes are from Univision’s official English transcript, which we confirmed by watching the interview in Spanish.)
Salinas asked him if he would abandon the legislation if lawmakers didn’t agree to strengthen border security even more. Rubio answered that he was committed to reform, but that the key to votes would be "a reasonable measure … to secure the border and prevent any sort of wave of illegal immigration in the future."
Then came the exchange that set up the "legalization" quote that lit up the Internet:
Salinas: At this time, the border is more secure than ever. There are 21,000 border agents, a 651-mile wall, more than 300 watchtowers. And the bill that you helped to write has even more funds for border security. So, what are the measures that you consider key for the Senate to approve the reform? What else do the Republicans want?
Rubio: Well, the problem — not just Republicans. There are four, five Democrats who are also asking for it in the Senate. And the point is the following: What they want are details on exactly where those resources are going to be used because, yes, there are sectors of the border that are much more secure, but there are others that aren’t. For example, the area of Tucson, Arizona. So what they’re asking is that it not be left to the discretion of the administration or agencies, but that the law specifically says where and how those resources will be used so that there is no waste and that the errors of the past are not repeated.
Salinas: And that can be done. Can you look for some type of …
Salinas: … phrase that can describe it in that way? Because we have to come up with something. At this point it’s the …
Rubio: Yes, of course. Yes—
Salinas: … Obama Administration, but in 12, 13 years when they’re eligible for legalization, many of those immigrants, we don’t know who will be in the White House.
Rubio: Well, we’ll be clear. Nobody is talking here about preventing legalization. Legalization will take place. That is, the following things will come next. First comes legalization, then comes this border security measure and then comes the permanent residency process. What we are talking about here is the permanent residency system. Regarding legalization, a vast majority of my colleagues have already accepted that: that it must take place and that it must start at the same time we start with what has to do with security. That is not conditional. Legalization is not conditional. Now, and I repeat, we can do it, and that is the point, we must specifically spell out where will the additional towers go, where will the additional wall go, where will the additional fence go, where will the additional sensors be; to provide specifics about where and how the available funds will be used.
So Salinas had asked about what might happen under the next administration. Rubio clarified that "legalization" would already be in place, distinguishing that temporary status from a later "permanent residency system."
With Hannity and Limbaugh, he called that early phase "provisional status" or a "probationary period," and emphasized instead the border security that would have to be achieved under the law before immigrants were eligible to apply for green cards.
Rohrabacher, in his interview June 16 with WND Radio, attacked those distinctions, saying, "This is just a lot of weasel words that Rubio and these people are throwing in. They’re going to legalize the status of people here illegally. Once they do that, that is an amnesty. And once they do that, there will be no border security improvements. It’ll all be a facade."
But Rubio emphasized his commitment to a bill that required border security.
Rohrabacher claimed on WND Radio that Rubio "all along has been saying, 'We have to have border security first. And then, he, you know, when he gets on Spanish TV, he ends up saying, 'No, no. That will never get in the way' or, 'Legalization status isn't contingent on border control.’"
We found, instead, that Rubio has explained the Senate bill’s multistep process, starting with a border security plan, in his English-language interviews with conservative hosts. He clarified that immigrants would be eligible to apply for provisional status at the same time.
In Spanish, he also emphasized border security, but explained that immigrants would be eligible for provisional status — "legalization" — before the Obama administration left office.
Rubio emphasized different parts of the bill’s process depending on his audience — particularly what he described as happening "first." But his explanations described the bill’s provisions the same way, in both English and in Spanish. We rate Rohrabacher’s claim Mostly False.