What in the world is Marco Rubio thinking?
Are immigrants really more dangerous than guns? That’s apparently what Sen. Marco Rubio believes. Rubio is a co-sponsor and one of the principal advocates for Senate Bill 744, the proposed Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Rubio also voted against the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill to extend background checks to commercial sales of guns at shows and over the Internet. Comparing the senator’s stance on these two issues, immigration and gun safety, is striking. Rubio’s immigration bill has two principal aims. First, as the senator has stated, it proposes “the toughest border immigration enforcement measures in U.S. history.” Second, it creates a path to legalize undocumented immigrants who entered the country prior to 2012. Why? Because despite all the years of effort and expense, the country has not done a very good job of controlling the border and dealing with “illegal” immigration. In essence, the bill recognizes that, even though the proposed legislation won’t solve all the problems associated with immigration, “we can do better” than we have and it is important to address a serious issue.The immigration bill seeks to promote better enforcement and implementation of existing border and security measures, including additional fencing and achieving “100 percent awareness” combined with 90 percent apprehension rates along the border with Mexico, mandatory use of the online E-verify system to ensure employers do not hire undocumented workers (which critics assert is a precursor to a national ID card), and an improved exit tracking system to stop visa overstays. Once these “security triggers” are in place, undocumented immigrants become eligible to apply for “temporary” status, and eventually begin the process of becoming permanent residents and obtaining a green card. To do so, however, they must first undergo security and background checks, and pay a $500 fine. Then, six years later, they must pay another $500 fine, prove they have been employed, paying taxes and haven’t been a public charge in the interim. After 10 years, they must again prove they have been employed, paying taxes and haven’t been a public charge, and pay a $1,000 fine, before being allowed to begin the three-year green card process. Although onerous, since no such legalization process currently exists, the thrust of the proposal is that “we can do better” than we have in dealing with undocumented immigrants. In contrast to this immigration scheme, Rubio voted against requiring criminals, terrorists or, indeed, anyone from undergoing any sort of background check at all prior to purchasing a weapon over the Internet or at a gun show. Rubio voted against strengthening the penalties against “straw purchasers,” those who buy weapons legally and then give them to others who are prohibited from owning guns. Rubio also voted against limiting sales of high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. Rubio says closing these loopholes isn’t necessary and won’t save lives. However, more money and fencing, photo IDs and a path to legalization for those who entered the U.S. prior to 2012 won’t stop illegal immigration, either. Perhaps, just as with illegal immigration, “we can do better” in addressing gun safety? In taking this stance, Rubio is not representing the people of Florida who, like much of the rest of the country (including gun owners), overwhelmingly support some sort of background check for gun sales, according to pollsters. In fact, even in Rubio’s home base of Miami-Dade County, Pinecrest, Mayor Cindy Lerner, the local leader of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, declared, “You are a coward, Sen. Rubio. You are afraid to stand up to the gun lobby and to stand up for your constituents. Instead, you stood up for the NRA. Shame on you.” Rubio apparently believes he can court votes and popularity with the immigration bill and ignore just how important gun safety has become to everyone without any political cost. We can do better dealing in addressing gun safety, which is at least as important an issue as illegal immigration, and we can do better than Marco Rubio.
Peter L. Fitzgerald is a professor of law at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. Fitzgerald is an expert in domestic and international commercial law and policy.