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Marco Rubio doesn’t bend to New Hampshire man’s plea to help undocumented worker

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At a town-hall meeting Wednesday in Laconia, New Hampshire, an undecided voter named Vince Morella asked Marco Rubio to convince him why he should vote for him since he contradicted a 2010 campaign statement never to support “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

“I’d like to think that you were telling the truth when you were running for office,” Morella said, adding that Rubio had also said he would never be controlled by special interests when running against Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek in his 2010 U.S. Senate race, yet had done exactly that by backing a comprehensive immigration bill supported by big business interests.

Rubio cut him off before he went further.

“I get the gist of it,” before declining to answer the question directly, instead saying that he promised to go to Washington to stand up to Barack Obama.

“I tried to make a difference in a Senate controlled by Democrats,” Rubio said, referring to the balance of power in 2013 when he worked with Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez in co-sponsoring the comprehensive immigration bill that he has spent the past few years disowning.

Rubio went on to give his familiar pitch on the subject — that comprehensive immigration reform currently is out of the question in Washington until the border can be adequately secured. He said that if elected president, he would hire 20,000 more border secure agents, not 20,000 I.R.S. agents.

Rubio maintained his stance a few minutes earlier during the Q&A when a man prefaced his question by saying that he may be violating the law by hiring an “illegal immigrant” named Fernando that has been a great employee working for him for years.

“Why can’t there be a path to citizenship for Fernando?” he asked.

Rubio said that being from Florida he has heard similar “heartbreaking stories” of undocumented people doing whatever they can to support their families. He said that the U.S. just couldn’t handle opening up the borders for everyone who wanted to come to America, adding that he knows of people who are in the country illegally, “and it would boil your blood.”

He referred specifically in Miami to the issue of Cuban migrants. “When they arrive they’re immediately granted legalization. They qualify for all sorts of refugee benefits. And then they move back to Cuba. Refugee benefits are being deposited in a bank in Miami. The relatives get the money, wire it back to Cuba, and they’re living on the island of Cuba with federal refugee benefits.”

Last month Rubio filed a bill requiring Cuban immigrants to prove they were persecuted in Cuba to qualify for cash, food stamps and Medicaid, like asylum seekers from other countries. Miami Representative Carlos Curbelo of Miami filed similar legislation last month that has the support of Cuban Americans in the House.

Rubio began the town hall with a 20-minute plus speech that touched on the familiar themes of his candidacy — including saying that Hillary Clinton is disqualified for office because she sent classified material through her home-brewed email server. And he modified his joke uttered during last week’s debate that Bernie Sanders would be a great president — for Sweden.

“With all the money he’s raising I told him he should buy himself an island, and make yourself the king.”

Regarding Social Security, he shot down one person’s suggestion that the country revisit George W. Bush‘s plan in 2005 to privatize the program.

“I think the time on that has passed,” he said, quickly moving on to another subject.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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