When protests erupted over the looming threat of deportation faced by Colombian-born high school valedictorian Daniela Pelaez, Florida Senator Marco Rubio didn’t just stand up for her – he met with her personally in Washington.
But that doesn’t mean the Tea Party-backed senator has changed his position on the DREAM Act.
Rubio reiterated his opposition to the legislative proposal Wednesday after meeting with Pelaez, calling it “the wrong way to do the right thing,” in a statement emailed to Fox News Latino.
“Instead, my hope is to come up with a bi-partisan solution to this problem. One that does not reward or encourage illegal immigration by granting amnesty, but helps accommodate talented young people like Daniela, who find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own,” Rubio said.
Senator Rubio has yet to outline what such a reform might look like.
“It’s not clear to me what the senator means,” Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, an expert on immigration policy at New York University, said in a telephone interview. “This is not rocket science, there aren’t too many factors here at work. Either you’re going to pursue a DREAM Act-like solution, or you’re going to pursue comprehensive immigration reform or you’re going to let the status quo win the day.”
The DREAM Act is a consensus issue for Latinos. Ninety percent of likely Latino voters support the proposal, according to a Fox News Latino national poll released Monday.
Rubio, whose conservative support base largely rejects providing a path to citizenship for undocumented students, has become a lightning rod for criticism from immigration reform advocates over his opposition to the DREAM Act.
“How does Marco Rubio look in the mirror and see someone who supports immigrants when he’s against the DREAM Act, which is supported by 90 percent of Latinos?” said Roberto Lovato of Presente Action, a pro-immigration organization that has organized the “No Somos Rubios” – “We Are Not Rubios” – campaign opposing Rubio’s positions on illegal immigration.
While Rubio faces strong criticism, he has also tried to calm heated emotions on immigration within his party. In January, Rubio said the GOP should refrain from using harsh rhetoric when discussing immigration.
“His views on immigration are much more nuanced than he gets credited for,” said Manny Fernandez of Café Con Leche Republicans, a conservative Latino group that supports the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. “I fully expect that in the long run, Marco’s going to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”
“He’s a freshman senator and it’s just going to take a little time for him to achieve what I believe in his heart of hearts he wants, which is an immigration system that makes sense,” Fernandez added.
Pelaez’s case gained national attention this week, after more than 2,000 students protested against her deportation on Friday – including Miami-Dade School Superintendant Alberto Carvalho.
"Beyond the legality of an issue like this, there is a student, a child, who has no culpability over her life's journey and whose humanity must be respected," Carvalho told the Associated Press.
Pelaez has a 6.7 grade point average and has applied to several Ivy League universities in the hopes of becoming heart surgeon.
ICE granted Peleaz a reprieve for two years, which she is petitioning to gain permanent residency.
Contains reporting by the Associated Press.