This article has been updated.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said on Wednesday that if he becomes president he’ll end protections for undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally during their youth — even if Congress doesn’t act.
“It will have to end at some point,” the Republican candidate said after an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, referring to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which applies to so-called “Dreamers."
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The program, he said, “is going to end, and the ideal way for it to end is that its replaced by a reform system that creates an alternative — but if it doesn’t, it will end. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States.”
The senator’s remarks on the issue were his strongest yet, as Rubio — who once pushed for a bi-partisan effort to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul — has previously said he wants to pass immigration reform through Congress before ending DACA.
Back in April, he told Univision that he didn’t think the program could immediately be rolled back when the next president comes into office. “I’m not calling for it to be revoked tomorrow or this week or right away,” he said.
But Rubio has recently been coming under fire from some of his Republican rivals who argue he’s a supporter of amnesty for illegal immigrants. The increased scrutiny coincides with his boost in the polls following a strong debate performance. Consequently, the senator — the son of Cuban immigrants — is seemingly toughening up his stance on the issue, stressing the need to first strengthen border security.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton criticized Rubio's stance on Wednesday evening, writing in a tweet that "We should not put 650,000+ promising young people at risk for deportation. Sen. Rubio is wrong on this."
More than 664,0000 undocumented immigrants have received DACA benefits since the program began in 2012.