A new GOP effort led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to produce a scaled-back version of the DREAM Act is nothing more than election-year politics, argues Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona (Ariz.).
In an interview at his Tucson campaign office earlier this month, Carmona, who is running in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), had some blunt criticism for Republicans on the topic of illegal immigration.
“Why do you think they’re reworking their initial vitriolic, far-right, ‘deport everybody’ (message)?” he asked. “Why? Do you think that all of a sudden there’s an epiphany and their hearts have opened up to people who are struggling? I don’t think so. I think it’s a political calculation – that they recognized they cannot win their races and stay in office unless they embrace the Hispanic community. So, I really feel it’s very disingenuous.”
Carmona’s criticism of the GOP on illegal immigration comes as Rubio, a rising Republican star and the son of Cuban immigrants, is spearheading an effort to produce an alternative to the DREAM Act.
The original DREAM Act would grant young people who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship provided that they attend college or serve in the military. Rubio’s plan, which is still in the works, would provide not a path to citizenship but rather non-immigrant visas, the Florida Republican says.
Rubio’s plan, Republicans note, would not prohibit anyone from applying for citizenship or residency down the line but neither would it create a “special pathway” to citizenship, as the original DREAM Act would.
Rubio’s office has been reaching across the aisle in an effort to secure bipartisan support for his proposal. But some Democrats, including Carmona, have expressed skepticism about the timing of the move as well as of other efforts by some national Republicans to tone down their rhetoric on illegal immigration as they work to woo Hispanic voters.
“Look, look,” Carmona said. “Do you think it just popped up at this time – six, seven months before the election – and everybody goes, ‘Oh gee, let’s embrace these people now’? ... So, it’s crazy. The fact of the matter is these are political calculations and the public is fed up with it.”
Carmona, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico to New York City, served from 2002 to 2006 as U.S. surgeon general in the George W. Bush administration. He had been courted by Republicans in 2006 to run against Gabrielle Giffords and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), but declined.
Now, he is running as a Democrat in the race to succeed Kyl. Rep. Jeff Flake is the front-runner on the GOP side, although he faces a tough primary challenge from businessman Wil Cardon.
Top Democrats, including President Obama, late last year encouraged Carmona to run in a deep-red state that they believe they have a shot at turning blue in November.
In criticizing GOP efforts on a scaled-back DREAM Act, Carmona – who dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Army at 17 – pointed to his own experience.
“I had my own version of the DREAM Act when I came back from Vietnam,” he said. “I couldn’t get into college. Okay? I am who I am today because Bronx Community College had an open-enrollment program for Vietnam veterans. ... And because of that, I became surgeon general of the United States.”
“So, that’s why I’m so passionate about giving these kids a chance,” he added. “It’s the right thing to do. They’re here through no fault of their own. They were brought by adults, and now we’re going to penalize them. It doesn’t make sense.”
Alex Conant, Rubio’s spokesman, said that the Florida Republican’s proposal is a genuine effort to craft a bipartisan solution when it comes to the legal status of young undocumented immigrants.
“Senator Rubio is working in good faith on legislation that can win bipartisan support and help undocumented kids who want to join the military or pursue higher education,” Conant said in a statement. “Our hope is that partisan election-year politics does not derail these important efforts, and people will reserve judgment until the proposal is finalized.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.