Rising Republican star and Florida Senator Marco Rubio is on the cover of this week’s TIME Magazine, and the title under his picture is “The Republican Savior: How Marco Rubio became the new voice of the GOP.” In the piece, called Immigrant Son, author Michael Grunwald says, “the charismatic conservative often hailed as the Tea Party’s answer to Barack Obama has emerged as the most influential voice in the national debate over immigration reform.”
The piece examines how Senator Rubio’s views on immigration have shifted; he defended the Dream Act as a Miami state legislator and supported legislation that would allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition, but when he ran for the Senate in 2010 he denounced Dream Act legislation as “amnesty.” In 2012, Senator Rubio softened his stance and proposed an alternative to the Dream Act, called the Achieve Act.
Now, Rubio is currently co-sponsoring a Senate plan which would back an ultimate path to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented contingent on border security and a tighter employer verification system. Senator Rubio also proposes that the nation’s undocumented get probationary legal status but then go to the “back of the line” for green cards without access to federal benefits like food stamps.
To make the case that Rubio’s Latino immigrant background is a large component of his evolving views on how to deal with the nation’s immigration laws, Grunwald opens the piece with a compelling anecdote about Rubio’s mother.
“Oriales García Rubio knows how it feels to want more. When she was a girl in central Cuba in the 1930s, her family of nine lived in a one-room house with a dirt floor. Her dolls were Coke bottles dressed in rags. She dreamed of becoming an actress. Instead she married a security guard, moved with him to the U.S. and found work as a hotel maid. Her husband got a job as a bartender while starting a series of failed businesses—a vegetable stand, a dry cleaner, a grocery. They never had much. But their house had a real floor. Their daughters had real dolls. They sent all four of their children to college to chase their own dreams.
That’s why on the morning of Dec. 21, she called her youngest son, Marco Antonio Rubio, the 41-year-old Senator from Florida and great Hispanic hope of the Republican Party—or, as she calls him, Tony. She got his voice mail. “Tony, some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world,” she said in Spanish. “Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them.” She reminded him that undocumented Americans—los pobrecitos, she called them, the poor things—work hard and get treated horribly. “They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them.”
Rubio tells Grunwald immigration reform is not a done deal yet. “It won’t be easy for Rubio to thread the needle between a mother who doesn’t want him to mess with the immigrants and supporters who want him to do just that,” says Grunwald. “For most of his colleagues, immigration is just another Washington policy issue. For Rubio, it follows him everywhere he goes—to the bakery, in the classroom, at home.”
The article concludes with the fact that for Rubio, being able to shepherd his party toward immigration legislation could be a political game-changer.
“But if he can put a conservative Republican face on reform while continuing to charm the anger-mongers of the airwaves, there will be lots of speculation about a first Hispanic President.”