Opinion Columns & Blogs

Rubio should find his voice in immigration debate

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio AP file

This would be a great time for Marco Rubio to start talking about his parents again.

I'll admit, I’ve grown weary over the years hearing the junior U.S. senator from Florida find a way in speeches to include the biographical detail that he comes from humble beginnings.

“I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from p

Frank Cerabino

ower and privilege,” was how Rubio put it when he announced his ill-fated run for the White House three years ago.

Well, the man who beat Rubio to that White House job needs to hear Rubio’s words now. And it’s a shame that Rubio has chosen to go silent on his favorite topic while President Donald Trump has taken up the mantle of “merit-based immigration” – the kind of immigration that would have excluded Rubio’s parents from their American dream.

Granting entry based on education, work skills, knowledge of the English language, and business and community service is what’s meant by merit-based immigration. And Trump thinks it’s the only kind of immigration America should tolerate.

“I think we should have merit-based immigration, like they have in Canada, like they have in Australia,” Trump said earlier this month, “so we have people with a good track record, as opposed to what we’re doing now.”

Trump suggested getting more people from Norway and fewer from countries such as Haiti, El Salvador and those on the African continent.

Please stand up, Mr. Rubio. This is your chance to remind the president that good people like your father and mother would have lacked the required “merit” to be deemed worthy in the United States.

They were unskilled laborers coming from a pre-Castro Cuba, a place that might very well have been branded as one of those “s–-hole countries” during the late 1950s. And yet look what happened.

They came with little more than a willingness to work, and through that work and opportunity, they carved out new lives, and now one of their children is a U.S. senator with presidential ambitions.

It’s the story of our country. It’s even inscribed on the base the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

The inscription there doesn’t call for “fully capitalized, hand-selected individuals a cut above the masses who are yearning to invest in small business opportunities.” It doesn’t instruct nations “to send us your doctors, your lawyers, your civil engineers from your teeming shore.”

Trump could use a respected voice in his party to supplement his Fox-News-thin sense of history. For example, on the day he was using “tough language” to say he didn’t want people from those poor countries coming here, it was the birthday of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton, the founder of America’s financial system and the first secretary of the treasury, arrived in New York as an uneducated, orphaned teenager from the island of St. Croix. He came looking for opportunity and ended up on the $10 bill.

My grandparents also arrived in New York by ship. They emigrated from Italy after World War I. Both were uneducated, poor and barely adults. Neither spoke English.

My grandfather got a job driving a coal truck in Brooklyn. My grandmother worked in a sweatshop. They had an arranged marriage in their new homeland. Then they pioneered a new American family.

It’s a familiar story, and one to celebrate, not to disparage. The way to reform immigration isn’t to sort out country-club-ready people for entry. It’s to keep the promise of those words on the Statue of Liberty.

Please help the president understand this, Mr. Rubio. He needs to hear another interpretation of the word “merit.”

The interpretation that has nothing to do with skin color or country of origin. The one that doesn’t have a language requirement or a degree.

You can do it, Mr. Rubio. I know you have the words.

You’ve used them so many times when they served your own personal gain.

Now you can use them to help others get ahead.

This is no time to go silent. Let’s hear about the bartender and the maid again.

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post. Email: fcerabino(at)pbpost.com.