Marco Rubio on Thursday defended comments Mitt Romney made earlier this year about the likelihood that undocumented immigrants would self-deport if the federal government cracked down on illegal immigration.
"I've never understood self-deportation, in what the governor has presented, as a policy. It's not a policy," Rubio told reporters during a breakfast meeting hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington, D.C. "I think it's an observation of what people will do in a country that's enforcing its immigration laws."
The Florida senator, who has spend part of his short career in Washington crafting legislation that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, was referring to remarks Romney made in January during a GOP primary debate in Tampa, Fla. At the time, Romney predicted that illegal immigrants would voluntarily leave the U.S. if the federal government put more resources into enforcing existing laws and removed what he called "magnets"—that is, government benefits that are provided to them.
"The answer is self-deportation," Romney said during the debate, "which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here, because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here."
On Thursday, Rubio said he thinks a solution to curbing illegal immigration is not as "simple" as both Republicans and Democrats make it out to be.
"Both sides of this issue try to simplify it," he said.
Rubio shelved his work on an immigration reform bill this week after President Barack Obama's announcement on Friday of a moratorium on deporting those who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
Rubio decried the New York Times editorial board for blasting his idea as "a Dream Act without the dream," while embracing Obama's announcement for a plan that would, he said, basically have a similar effect.
"When I first began discussing the issue of the kids and the concept that I had in mind, the New York Times wrote an editorial basically saying my concept should be dismissed off-hand. That it was a Dream Act without a dream. Certain bloggers on the left called it—that I was in favor of apartheid. That I was imposing another three-fifths compromise," Rubio said. "That I favored second-class citizenship. But now the president proposed a similar concept—although I don't agree the way he did it—and it's the greatest idea in human history according to them."