They're called the "Gang of Eight" but this is a misnomer. In reality, they are the "Gang of Seven, featuring Marco Rubio." While the other seven members that constitute the bipartisan effort in the Senate to draft a comprehensive immigration reform bill have been working to build broad support for their upcoming bill -- including fellow Republicans John McCain (who defended the cause before a hostile town hall of anti-immigrant bullies in Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (who's successfully organizing South Carolina Evangelical groups to support reform) -- Rubio has publicly undermined the progress made by the group at every turn, allegedly for his own political reasons.
The conventional wisdom is that Rubio is preparing to run for president in 2016. Some see his vacillation on the immigration reform front as a political calculation aimed at strengthening a future presidential candidacy. If that's true, it's a cynical reason to delay a reform that is already years overdue.
Let's retrace the steps. In January, the Gang of Eight said they would have a bill introduced by March 1st. As that deadline came closer, they quietly pushed that deadline back three weeks to the 21st. March 21 came and went, and the Gang again failed to deliver.
Now, Congress is on recess until April 8. While business and labor leaders make landmark deals over guest worker visas, and Senator Chuck Schumer predicts a speedy introduction of reform legislation in the Senate on "Meet the Press," Rubio, a fellow member of the Gang of Eight, once again is trying to slow the whole process down, this time by calling for open hearings on the unfinished bill .
Rubio's politicking wouldn't be so unforgivable were it not for the dramatic human consequences of delaying the process. Our current immigration system is separating families at a clip of 1,100 a day. To put that into perspective, when Congress returns from Easter recess on April 8th, 19,800 immigrant families will have been separated by deportation since the Gang of Eight missed its last deadline on March 21. Nearly 50,000 families will have been separated since the Senators missed their original deadline of March 1.
Does Rubio not care about these families? Aren't family values a central tenant of his party? Why is he allowing this to go on, and to what end?
Rubio is in an important leadership position, yet he is failing to show leadership. Leaders do what is right, not what is politically expedient. Real leaders focus on solving problems, especially when they require moral or political courage. That's why Graham is able to build support among evangelicals in South Carolina, a very conservative state. Or as he put it, "If I can sell it in South Carolina, don't come to me and say it's hard. This is a conservative state, and the way we're selling it is to fix [the immigration system]."
Last November, Latino and immigrant voters spoke loud and clear at the polls, and the message was simple: pass immigration reform, and do it fast. If Rubio is the reason that immigration reform is torpedoed, he will be delivering a painful blow to the millions of people who closely identify with him and his story and who truly believe that he is on their side. If he fails them, they will not forget. Not this year, or next year. Certainly not in 2016. Or 2020 for that matter.
If Rubio is serious about passing comprehensive reform that includes a fair, attainable pathway to citizenship for 11 million people, he must stop unnecessarily delaying the process and instead use his influence to put the reform bill on the floor, help secure it votes, and finally pass immigration reform for our families.
Let's see if he knows how to lead.