In a 2006 speech during his rise to political prominence, then-soon-to-be-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio spoke of Cuban immigrants, saying:
“Today your children and grandchildren are the secretary of commerce of the United States and multiple members of Congress, they are the CEO of Fortune 500 companies and successful entrepreneurs, they are Grammy-winning artists and they are renowned journalists, they are a United States senator and soon, even speaker of the Florida House.”
On Saturday, now-United States Senator Marco Rubio eviscerated President Obama for his plan to afford all immigrants the same opportunity for citizenship that Cubans who flee their country to the United States without documents — as Senator Rubio’s parents did — receive, proclaiming:
“If actually proposed, the President’s bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come.”
In fact, contrary to that claim, according to USA Today, who received an advanced copy of the president’s first draft, “The bill calls for an unspecified increase in the Border Patrol [and] allows the Department of Homeland Security to expand technological improvements along the border …”
Rubio also decried the president’s proposal as “creat[ing] a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally.” Apparently it slipped his mind that the purpose of proposing a solution to the current illegal immigration problem will by necessity require creating a special pathway for those who broke our immigration laws. The only option that would not require such a solution would be deporting those approximately 11 million people and making them start the process from scratch, which everyone — Republican and Democrat alike — agrees is the option that is “dead on arrival” because it’s entirely unfeasible.
Since 1959, Cubans who flee their country’s poverty and oppression and arrive on our shores have been entitled to a special classification as “refugee,” and don’t need “papers” in order to begin the process of becoming naturalized citizens. They move to the head of the line before most others coming into this country undocumented. They receive “special treatment.”
Mexicans, on the other hand (and let’s be honest, those are the people Republicans are most infuriated about, as opposed to the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Canadians, etc.), though relegated to similar struggles in their home country, are not afforded this courtesy because Mexico is technically a democracy, not a dictatorship.
But there’s real democracy and then there’s Mexico’s “democracy.” Mexico is rife with corruption; organized crime; citizens suffering crushing poverty; and drug lords ruling the streets, murdering tens of thousands of innocents every year. As criminologist and freelance writer Christina Johns highlights in her story, “The Mordida: Mexico And Corruption”:
The extent and pervasiveness of official corruption in Mexico is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t lived there. Corruption is everywhere and widely accepted as a fact of life.
Early on in my travels in Mexico I learned what the word “mordida” meant. Literally, it means “bite” but figuratively and the way it is most frequently used, it means a bribe.
For a lot of things you do in Mexico, especially if they involve a public official, you have to pay the “mordida”, the bite.
Want your tourist card stamped? You pay the mordida. Want the dates on your tourist card extended? You pay the mordida. Want your car registered? You pay the mordida.
And, there’s no point in protesting it. The question is not whether you’ll pay. The question is how much.
I know this to be true first-hand, because I lived in Mexico*. I had the pleasure of living in the beautiful city of Puerto Vallarta for a year and a half, getting to know the people and learning their culture. Where the poor in the United States stand on street corners with signs that lie that they will work for food, the poor in Mexico are industrious, actually doing odd jobs in anticipation of a tip or payment. Drive to a grocery store and park your car in the lot, and odds are you will find your car’s windows will all have been washed by a man with a bucket of dirty water and a rag. Get on a bus and you’re likely to find a man strolling the aisles entertaining you with his guitar and a song. I have never seen a People so determined and with such an incredible work ethic. Unless they are literally physically crippled, you will never see an average Mexican citizen with their hand out.
We need these kinds of workers in America because we simply don’t have people with the skills they bring. Yes, I said they bring skills; these are not “unskilled” workers by a long shot. We simply do not appreciate the skills they do bring. As Megan McArdle of the Atlantic points out in her piece, “Can American farms survive without illegal immigrants?“:
[P]icking is difficult work. I don’t mean that it’s merely physically hard, though it is that … But picking is also a skill….
Picking needs to be fast and thorough. It also requires judgment. Purple raspberries, for example, need to be picked when they are shiny, but not too red…. [M]ost fruits and vegetables require surprisingly skilled handling (which is why they still use pickers, instead of machines). Bad picking can easily destroy the profit margin on your crop, costing you more than you gain. …
The illegal immigrants who harvest our crops have grown up doing this, learning the way my grandparents did. There are almost no Americans left who have either the painfully developed musculature or the painstakingly acquired knowledge to rapidly harvest a field without damaging the crop. And acquiring those skills is tricky, because the picking season for any one crop is very short …
Senator Rubio sits on a committee of eight — four Democrats and four Republicans — who have been tasked with the responsibility of coming up with a bipartisan solution to our growing immigration problem. If Mr. Rubio has better ideas, it is up to him and his colleagues to put forth their own legislation. Congress has been diddling with this without any solid proposals for years. In his first term, president Obama deferred to Congress on writing major legislation, and, as USA Today reported, “openly supported the efforts in Congress to take the lead on immigration legislation.”
In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised he would take independent action in the face of an obstructionist Congress. Political posturing is not getting the job done. If Republicans want something different, now is the time to propose it, not spout off to the media.
But it ought not hinge on keeping “those people” out by erecting walls or digging moats. Denigrating other immigrants who flee their country’s oppressive poverty and corruption to build better lives for their families here, while extolling the virtues of your own family and others who flee Cuba is, shall we say, un-Senatorial.
*And yes, I did have to pay “the mordida” once, when I was pulled over by the police for apparently Driving While American and could not prove that the car I was driving was mine (it was). I was lucky that I happened to be carrying cash or I would likely have ended up in a Mexican prison for the alleged theft of my own car.
Jill Klausen has 11 years of political consulting experience working with many candidates and elected officials including Jane Harman, Patrick Kennedy, and Barbara Boxer. In addition to writing for Addicting Info, Jill owns and operates a Copy Editing consulting firm, and is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Winning Words Project; a site dedicated to formulating winning progressive messaging campaigns. Follow Jill on Twitter @jillwklausen