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On asylum seekers, Marco Rubio flubs a test he should’ve passed

Marco Rubio really ought to know that asylum seekers aren’t criminals, making his condemnations of Venezuelan migrants especially misguided.


As recently as April, Sen. Marco Rubio sought protections for Venezuelans seeking refuge in the United States. The Florida Republican joined a Democratic colleague to request that the Department of Homeland Security extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to those fleeing the South American country.

“Given the Maduro regime’s ongoing campaign of state-sanctioned violence against the people of Venezuela and the humanitarian crisis present in the country, we request that you re-designate Venezuela for TPS for an additional 18 months,” the letter Rubio co-authored read. “Failure to do so would result in a very real death sentence for countless Venezuelans who have fled their country.”

Five months later, a group of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, were lured onto airplanes by people affiliated with Gov. Ron DeSantis — the Republican governor of Rubio’s home state of Florida. Those planes then dumped the desperate people on a Massachusetts island, without the resources they’d been promised, as part of a cruel political stunt. Those migrants are now suing over their mistreatment.

And that apparently isn’t sitting well with the GOP senator who wanted to provide Venezuelans with temporary legal status and work authorization as recently as the spring. Rubio released a video statement via social media yesterday, in which the Republican argued in an incredulous tone:

“In what country in the world are you allowed to enter illegally — into a country, violating its laws — and within a week be in court suing the very government whose laws you just violated? Well, that’s what we hear today, that the 48 migrants from Venezuela who violated our laws a week ago and entered the country illegally are now suing. They’re now in court; they have a lawyer; and they’re suing. This is incredible. No other country in the world would allow that.”

Rubio went on to insist that critics of the way the migrants were exploited are “hypocrites” — he was a little fuzzy on why — and “radicals” who “want to destroy this country.”

It’s not altogether clear what motivated such hysterical whining. Perhaps the senator is feeling antsy about his re-election campaign — the latest statewide poll showed the Republican incumbent with an advantage of only four points — so he’s lashing out at these Venezuelans in the hopes it will impress the GOP base.

Indeed, Rubio pushed the same message, almost word-for-word, on Fox News yesterday.

At this point, we could spend a couple of minutes reminding the senator that one need not be an American citizen to seek legal recourse over government abuses. We could also note how curious it is to hear a Cuban American politician, representing a state that’s home to many Cubans who sought refuge in the U.S. after fleeing a brutal regime, insist that these Venezuelans face an entirely different set of standards.

But what stood out for me most was Rubio’s repeated insistence that these migrants broke the law. They entered the United States “illegally,” the senator said, and “violated our laws.”

What Rubio really ought to know is that asylum seekers aren’t criminals.

As a Washington Post analysis explained yesterday, the asylum seekers fleeing the dictatorial regime in Venezuela “appear to have been legally allowed to remain” in the United States. The Post added, “Many migrants cross into the country and immediately try to make asylum claims, claims that have to be made on American soil. If the plaintiffs are seeking asylum from the Venezuelan regime, they are allowed to remain in the United States until their cases can be heard.”

Rubio marveled at these folks’ willingness to brazenly break American laws, but by all accounts, they’ve played by the rules. In return, they’ve been exploited, lied to, and condemned by politicians like Rubio.

Recent estimates suggest there are at least 200,000 Venezuelans in Florida. I wonder how many of them are taking note of the senator’s outrage.