LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Republican Sen. Marco Rubio scolded politicians from both parties Friday for using illegal immigration as a political tool rather than finding compromise on a difficult, divisive issue.
He accused both sides of not being willing to make serious attempts to solve the issue because it's easier to raise money and win votes if left unsolved.
"I have seen people take the legitimate concerns about illegal immigration and turn it into panic, and turn that panic into fear and anger and turn that anger into votes and money. I have also seen people go in the other direction. Anyone who disagrees with their ideas on illegal immigration is anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. That's ridiculous," Rubio said at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference.
As an example, Rubio mentioned his own efforts to seek support for a proposal that would allow young illegal immigrants to remain in the country under certain conditions. It was Rubio's attempt to find a compromise on the DREAM Act, formally the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama said his administration will not deport young illegal immigrants - the same people that would have been helped under the Rubio proposal.
But Rubio said when he first proposed his idea, Democrats immediately dismissed it.
"I was accused of supporting a DREAM Act without a dream. Of course, a few months later the president takes a similar idea and implements it through executive action and now it's the greatest idea in the world. I don't care who gets the credit - I don't - but it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics to some people. Not just Democrats, Republicans too," Rubio said.
He said the only way the issue will be resolved is if both sides admit it's complicated and look at it as a human, rather than political, issue.
"Yes, it is a law and order issue, but it's also a human issue. These are real people. These are human beings who have children and hopes and dreams. These are people that are doing what virtually any of us would do if our children were hungry, if their countries were dangerous, if they had no hope for their future," Rubio said. "That perspective's lost."
"As long as this issue of immigration is a political pingpong that each side uses to win elections and influence votes, I'm telling you it won't get solved," Rubio added. "There are too many people who have concluded that this issue unresolved is more powerful. They want it to stay unresolved."
Rubio said he was resisting the urge to criticize Obama, who was scheduled to speak to the Latino officials two hours later.
"I was tempted to come here today and rip open the policies of the administration," Rubio said. "But that's not the direction I want to go with my speech, because if I did, if that's what I came here to talk to you about, then I would be doing the exact same thing I just criticized."
Rubio also criticized the media for reporting on immigration with an eye on who reaps the benefits from immigration policy rather than from the human perspective.
"All they want to talk about is, 'Well, what does this mean for the election? What does this mean politically? Wasn't this a brilliant political tactic?'" Rubio said. "I wasn't looking for a talking point. I wasn't looking to influence the election in November. I was looking to help these kids that I've I met ... who came here when they were 5, who didn't even know that they were undocumented until they applied to go to college."
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