Immigration Advocates Tell Marco Rubio To Fall In Line Or Risk Backlash

April 5, 2013 12:05 p.m.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) recent concerns about the pace of immigration reform are causing heartburn for immigration activists, who warned the senator on Friday that he’ll only damage the odds of a bill passing and his own political standing if he keeps calling for a slower process.

“Most of us think he’s been courageous in engaging the debate and are very hopeful he’ll stay in it,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said on a conference call with reporters. “On the other hand, he seems to keep building himself exit ramps.”Rubio echoed immigration skeptics like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) last weekend by calling for a slow and deliberate pace that included additional hearings on new legislation and an open amendment process. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chair of the Judiciary Committee that will examine the bill, sounded more than a little annoyed in his response, writing that “swift” action was his preference.

Activists are worried that Rubio is giving himself a process-based excuse to abandon immigration reform if it becomes politically difficult. At best, he could give opponents of reform more time to organize efforts to kill a bill entirely.

“He cannot walk away during this crucial moment that we are in for immigration reform,” said Evelyn Rivera, a Florida-based coordinator for United We Dream, an advocacy group for young undocumented immigrants.

She added that she would be meeting in Miami with dozens of activist this weekend to determine “how we will hold [Rubio] accountable” in the future.

For Rubio, the message from activists was that he’s in way too deep to back away from immigration reform without wrecking his political standing. In other words, “I’m not locked in here with you — you’re locked in here with me!”

Matt Barreto, principal at pollster Latino Decisions and associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, offered up a litany of survey data to back up the claim. The most critical is that the Latino electorate, per their most recent polling, is overwhelmingly poised to blame the GOP if things go wrong for reform — 60 percent of respondents versus 15 percent who predicted failure would be Democrats’ fault . That means Rubio is unlikely to escape criticism if he comes up with a procedural reason to drop out. By contrast, 44 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate that took a “leadership role” in passing immigration reform.

“The Republican candidate, to win the support of the Latino vote, would have to take a leadership role and that’s what people are starting to question with Rubio,” Barreto said.

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