Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) skirted a question on Wednesday of whether he would deport the millions of parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who would be offered protection under the president's deportation relief program.
The GOP presidential candidate said the policy, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, would be eliminated under his presidency and that the laws would be enforced.
It was the type of politician-speak that's become typical of his remarks on immigration -- possible to interpret either as a call for parents to be deported or just a broad statement of the need for more people to be deported.
He was asked on CBS's "This Morning" whether he was for deporting DAPA-eligible immigrants and initially didn't answer.
"This is a tough issue because you're talking about human beings and real lives," he said. "The flip side of it is you're talking about the law. I mean, this country has a right to have immigration laws. And it needs to enforce those laws, or you don't have laws. No one has a right to illegally immigrate to the United States. So look, this is an issue that's very difficult."
Host Norah O'Donnell asked him to clarify whether he "would see those 4 million-plus immigrants deported." Since DAPA was an executive action, the next president will have the power to end it.
"We need to enforce our law, and I do not support DAPA," Rubio said. "It's unconstitutional, it's the wrong way to do this, and quite frankly, we need to begin to enforce our immigration laws in this country or we don't have immigration laws."
DAPA is currently blocked in the courts, and suffered a blow on Monday when an appeals court maintained an injunction that prevented it from moving forward. The Justice Department announced Tuesday it will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The courts have also stopped an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to stay and obtain temporary work permits.
The original DACA program, which began in 2012, is still running, and Rubio has been criticized over his statements on whether he would end it as president.
He has said he would prefer to end DACA and enact immigration reform to deal with the issue instead, but said last week that even without congressional action, he would do away with the program.
Rubio was one of the authors of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 and later died in the House. The bill would have allowed certain undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and eventually gain citizenship.
He now says he still supports eventually allowing some undocumented people to gain legal status -- which could, depending on how legislation was drafted, also allow eventual citizenship -- but that border security measures should come first.
Rubio said Wednesday that he would support deporting recent border-crossers, the same position the Obama administration has taken.
"I don't oppose deporting people that haven't been in this country for a very long time," Rubio said on "This Morning."
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