Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Joe Raedle/Getty Images Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The immigration-reform fight is a bit of a conservative ballet. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) darts here, dashes there and slowly gathers support.

Yesterday, as we predicted, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a series of amendments to the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill; the amendments are designed to garner more Republican support.

In one, Hatch proposed “to establish, within two years of enactment, a mandatory biometric exit data system in the 10 U.S. Core 30 airports that support the highest volume of international air travel. Five years after enactment, the GAO will provide a study on the effectiveness of the biometric exit data collection at these sites. At year six, unless Congress acts, a mandatory biometric exit data system will be established at all remaining U.S. international Core 30 airports and the GAO will provide a plan for the expansion of the biometric exit system to major sea and land entry and exit points within the United States.” Several others would “authorize additional visas for well-educated aliens to live and work in the United States.”

Rubio’s press secretary Alex Conant told me, “Sen. Hatch has made several good suggestions to improve the bill, and we hope the senators on the Judiciary Committee will support them.” These are not likely to be the only changes.

A Rubio aide, authorized only to speak on background, wrote in an email to me that Rubio will be fighting in the committee mark-up for additional amendments that mandate specific portions of the Southwest border to be fenced (with double-layered fencing) and the funding to do it; strengthen the grounds for ineligibility/inadmissibility for currently undocumented immigrants convicted of more than one misdemeanor; increase the number of background checks to which these people are subjected as they go through the process to ensure that they do not violate the criminal/national security grounds for eligibility (which Rubio contends is extremely important in the wake of the Boston bombing); punish immigrants who commit welfare fraud; create a rebuttable presumption that an immigrant is a public charge if he or she accepts state and local welfare benefits; and eliminate all exceptions for eligibility for the provisional residency provision for people who were illegally here and were either removed or left the country after Dec. 31, 2011, and then reentered illegally.

I expect Rubio has lined up support in the committee for each of these amendments.

Meanwhile, Rubio writes on the National Review Online site (shortly after the magazine ran a hugely negative piece on his “immigration folly” and then parroted the widely criticized Heritage study) about the link between national security and the immigration-reform bill. That, in and of itself, is a sign that even with NRO readers, he is a persuasive voice.

In the piece, Rubio goes after right-wing neo-isolationists who share with President Obama an unwillingness to recognize the threat of Islamic jihadism:

[I]f we’re not even willing to characterize the war as a war, or the threat as a threat, how can we ensure that we will win this battle? If, instead, we want to see every act of terror in the United States as some isolated case, disconnected from a broader effort — as administration officials are now spinning Boston — we’re doing a disservice to the American people.

President Obama is failing to explain to the American people the consequences of this conflict, why it is important, what the stakes are, and who our enemy actually is. . . .

In reaction to the approach of the current administration, some argue that we should hunker down here at home. They believe that the government has overreached on national security — that more than a decade after 9/11, we need to focus more on restricting our government than on fighting those who want to kill us and disrupt our way of life. . . .

We should of course ask questions of our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies about who knew what and when, but we should keep in mind that Boston shows that limiting government’s authorities, retreating from the world, and isolating ourselves will not keep us safe.

There are areas in our immigration system that need to be reviewed. We must ensure that the systems at the Department of Homeland Security, and its many agencies within, that we created to protect the American people have not created new stovepipes that prevent the sharing of information.


In essence, he’s putting conservative hawks’ feet to the fire: If you want to get serious about terrorism, then part of the solution is immigration reform.

He’s right, of course. Either because they are rooting for Obama to lose or because they shrink from taking on their anti-immigrant conservative friends, some hawks (who never have been immigration opponents) have thrown their lot in with the Rubio attackers. It’s a mistake on the merits of immigration, but it also is a strategic error. In rooting for the president to fail, they are also rooting for Rubio’s failure and, with that, a defeat for the most articulate defender of an internationalist, forward-leaning forward policy. They might want to consider whether they are doing real damage to their own cause.

In any event, Rubio continues his impressive, broad strategy. If it works, he’ll get credit for political wizardry. If not, no one can say he didn’t pull out all the stops.