Marco Rubio's Evolving Immigration Story May Brand Him Latino Leader Or Misleader

Sitting behind a computer screen in his Los Angles-area home, Luis Alvarado was sipping coffee and making his usual online run though the morning’s headlines when he saw the news.

A new book examining the life of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) indicates that the Tea Party Republican and possible GOP vice presidential pick may understand more about life under the shadow of potential deportation than some of his most vocal Latino critics think. In 1962, an immigration court ordered that Rubio’s maternal grandfather be deported, according to excerpts from a soon-to-be-released Rubio biography published by Politico on Tuesday and federal court records obtained by the Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act Request. Despite the court’s order, Rubio’s Cuban grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia, did not leave the country, according to the book. He stayed in the United States.

“What was the first thing that came to mind?” said Alvarado, a Mexican-American and strategist with Revolvis, a political consulting firm. Alvarado is also chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Greater Los Angeles and a supporter of GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “Well, a few weeks ago a Democratic organization said that they were going to stop the ‘Brown Knight’ from having an effect in this election. So I thought wow, I guess the real campaign has started. Rubio is under attack.”

Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia penned "The Rise of Marco Rubio," the Rubio biography slated for release in June that made public a new version of the Rubio family history. The revelation marks the second time that the reporter has reshaped the public’s understanding of Rubio, his family and their immigration experience. The revelation could also galvanize Rubio supporters, serving as evidence that Rubio has taken principled rather than politically or personally expedient stances on immigration policy. Or, it could shine a bright light on one of the long-simmering tensions that divides segments of the Latino electorate and render Rubio a weaker magnet for Hispanic voters.

"Senator Rubio's grandfather fled Castro's Cuba and his immigration experience is a classic exile story," Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, said in a statement emailed The Huffington Post Thursday. "Like other refugees, it makes sense that he didn't arrive with the proper visas, but the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act legalized his status. Senator Rubio has pointed to the Cuban refugees' experience as an example for how we should treat young people who are undocumented in America through no fault of their own."

Cuban Americans, who first began arriving in the United States in large numbers in the late 1950s after fleeing political conditions in Cuba, are eligible for special visas and ultimately citizenship if they can make it to American soil. Nearly 1,700 Cubans were stopped at sea or landed in the United States during fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, according to figures compiled by El Nuevo Herald from Homeland Security Department data.

In contrast, flagging Central American economies, the American housing boom and a limited number of visas for migrants drove the surge in illegal immigration to the United States during the 1990s and 2000s, many demographers say. Migration from the region has since leveled off. For the first time since The Great Depression more Mexicans left the United States in 2011 than arrived, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center released this week. A Mexican with relatives in the United States can face a wait of 16 to 20 years for a visa and a legal opportunity to immigrate, U.S. State Department data shows.

Today, Cubans and their desendants, such as Rubio, comprise about 3.5 percent of the nation’s Latino population and 4.5 percent of eligible Hispanic voters, according to the most recent Census data. The same data indicate that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans make up about 63 percent of the Hispanic population and nearly 60 percent of the nation’s Latino electorate.

That’s the backdrop that will shape the next presidential election, said DeeDee Garcia Blase, a Mexican-American who lives in Arizona and founded Somos Republicans (We Are Republicans) before leaving the party last year and declaring herself an Independent.

Garcia Blase says she left the GOP after Rubio sponsored federal legislation that she regarded as a direct attack on the country’s mostly Central American undocumented immigrants. Rubio has also criticized President Ronald Regan's 1986 amnesty program for undocumented immigrants, Garcia Blase said.

“The bottom line is, the party knows that they cannot win without the Latin vote,” she said. “But Rubio already drove a wedge between the Cuban-American and Mexican-American communities. I don’t think Mexicans are going to buy Marco Rubio and his new story.”

Rubio, 40, has repeatedly described himself as the son of Cuban exiles who struggled to build a new life in America after being forced to flea the communist and oppressive Cuban regime.

Last year, Roig-Franzia, the Washington Post reporter behind the forthcoming Rubio biography, “The Rise of Marco Rubio,” reported information that directly contradicted Rubio’s account of his parents' escape from communist Cuba. Roig-Franzia found that Rubio’s parents left Cuba for Miami in 1956, nearly three years before Fidel Castro seized power on New Year's Day 1959.

The difference: Rubio’s version casts him as the son of exiles and part of a Cuban diaspora, displaced by a communist regime and forced to make a new life in the United States. Roig-Franzia's findings detail a less evocative immigrant experience.

Now, Roig-Franiza has unearthed information indicating that Rubio’s maternal grandfather allegedly returned to Cuba after Castro’s rise to power and worked for the government for about two years before deciding to return to the United States, Politico reported. When he did, U.S. officials questioned his political exile claim and ordered him deported.

In a statement released Wednesday, Rubio's office described the book’s revelations as proof of his grandfather’s “bold actions to escape Castro’s Cuba after the Bay of Pigs. The tale of his grandfather’s desperate escape from Castro’s Cuba is the quintessential exile story.”

The book also contains significant contradictions and factual errors, the statement said.

“The book’s claims are about as relevant to Rubio’s ability to govern as the revelation that Obama ate dog years and years ago,” said Alvarado, the California-based political consultant. "Both are ridiculous." Alvarado worked on presidential campaigns for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and served as a mouthpiece for the Arizona Sen. John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket in 2008 on English and Spanish-language TV.

And, few voters will hold Rubio accountable for decisions his grandfather made before Rubio was born, Alvarado said.

Alvarado believes that the revaluations in the forthcoming Rubio biography will only reinforce the idea that Rubio is fit for leadership, he said. Despite an immigration struggle in his own family, Rubio has taken principled and consistent stances on public policy, said Alvarado.

“As a Latino on the West Coast, I can tell you that right now, his name is not synonymous with leadership,” Alvarado said. “There isn’t really another Latino in that role either. But if Latinos identify with his biography, or at least see that this man was not elected to represent the interest of Latinos, he was elected to serve his entire constituency, and that has guided him, then I think Latinos across the country will start to see him as the leader that he is.”

This week, Rubio appeared on political talk shows and gave a foreign policy speech at The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. think tank. In the last few weeks, Rubio has also campaigned along side Romney in Arizona and agreed to meet with three Democratic Congress members to discuss his Dream Act-like proposal that would give young undocumented immigrants access to long-term visas and the legal ability to work.

Rubio has publicly and repeatedly opposed the measure known as the Dream Act -- supported primarily by Democrats over the last decade -- that would give young people brought to the country illegally by their parents a pathway to citizenship if they work, join the military or attend college. And, he has been a vocal supporter of Arizona's SB 1070, a state-level immigration enforcement policy that, among other things, requires police to demand immigration paperwork and ID from anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The law is at the center of a Supreme Court case being considered this week.

On Wednesday, the same day that arguments were heard on the law, the new allegations about the Rubio family immigration history emerged.

"I suppose he’ll say look, my grandfather was almost deported too,” Garcia Blase said. "But of course he'll have to do that after he’s already lied about being a Cuban exile and after he's benefited personally from Cuban-American amnesty. He’s made himself an enemy of every self-respecting Mexicano, every Latino in the United States."

This story has been updated to include reports of federal records pertaining to Pedro Victor Garcia's case and a statement from Sen. Marco Rubio's office.