The Wisdom of Marco Rubio on Illegal Immigration

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June 19 2012 2:09 PM

The Wisdom of Marco Rubio on Illegal Immigration

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US Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, points to his car after accidentally getting into the wrong car as he leaves the Council on Foreign Relations May 31, 2012 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages

Most Americans have a natural abhorrence of people who break the law, which turns the question of "illegal immigration" into an emotionally charged one for them. But though Marco Rubio's been playing partisan games on immigration policy in the Senate, he talks sense on this issue in his book:

"Many people who came here illegally are doing exactly what we would do if we lived in a country where we couldn't feed our families," he writes in An American Son, which was released Tuesday. "If my kids went to sleep hungry every night and my country didn't give me an opportunity to feed them, there isn't a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from coming here."
Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants and has been among the more vocal members of the Republican Party about the need to soften rhetoric on immigration. He planned to introduce a bill that would help young undocumented immigrants gain legal status -- although he said Monday that the legislation is unlikely to come up -- but also opposes comprehensive reform that would grant legal status to many.
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An important nuance here is that since the Cuban Revolution, Cuban-born people have been legally permitted to migrate to the United States in unlimited quantities. Consequently, Cubans considering a dangerous trip to improve their lives and the lives of their children don't need to also become "criminals" in order to do so. That means there's no illegal immigration from Cuba. But Cuba is hardly the only country on earth suffering from poverty and malgovernment, and non-Cubans love their families too.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.