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Let’s talk about immigration. What’s your reaction to the Supreme Court’s Arizona decision?
In one of the chapters in my book I talk about a moment in time when Arizona passed that law and I was asked to comment as a candidate for the Senate. And I was torn about it. Initially, I didn’t like it at all. Then two things happened. The first is that Arizona went back and tweaked the law to make it specifically prohibited to be able to profile people. The second is that I started to learn more. I came to realize that Arizona has a unique situation, unlike Florida. We have an immigration problem in Florida, but we’re a peninsula. They have a border problem, and it’s not just an immigration issue. It’s a gun-running issue. It’s human trafficking. They’re frustrated that the federal government hadn’t acted—or hadn’t acted enough. And they turned to their legislature and said, “Pass this law.” And I understood that.
Does the idea of profiling bother you?
Obviously, but I don’t think that’s what they want in Arizona. They made it very clear. You can’t pull in people because they look like they’re Hispanic. What it allows basically is for that issue to come up. If you stop somebody in the lawful conduct of your business as a police officer, you have a right to inquire about their immigration status as a secondary matter. That’s what the Supreme Court upheld. I think [Arizona] has a constitutional right to pass a law like this. I don’t think Florida needs a law like that, and to be frank, I don’t think that’s what the rest of the country should do.
So how does the federal government modernize our immigration system?
Both sides oversimplify immigration. On the one hand, there’s the real human element here. These are folks that come to this country in search of a better life. Many are desperate. They’re doing what many of us would do if we found ourselves in that position. On the other hand, we have to have immigration laws, and they have to be enforced. We can’t be the only country in the world that doesn’t enforce its immigration laws.
The question is, what laws and what enforcement do you want to see?
The important thing, when I talk about enforcing our laws, is we can’t have this attitude that, well, I understand that they broke the law, but now that they’re here we’ve got to look the other way. We have millions of people waiting to come here legally. What do I tell them when they come looking for help to expedite the process? Do I tell them to enter illegally because it’s quicker and cheaper? What we need to do is, No. 1, win the confidence of the American people. And that means continuing to improve border security. The border has gotten more secure, but there is still some more work to do. A lot of that is just a function of funding, and, secondarily, some sort of electronic verification system that is cost effective and that businesses can use to verify the eligibility of the people they’re hiring. We need to modernize the legal immigration system—that includes a guest worker program, an agricultural worker program. We need to have visas that take into account the need, for example, of high-tech jobs. If you do these things … it becomes easier to deal with the people that are here undocumented.
I won’t ask you about your thoughts on joining Mitt Romney’s ticket. I’ve already tried and failed. But do you want to be president?
I don’t have any ambition about a particular office in the future. One of the things that was really liberating for me when I was speaker of the House [in Florida] was that I had nothing else to run for. What I have learned in my time—and watching others—is that when you’re in office and you view it as a steppingstone to something else, you end up ruining your time there and ruining your chance at the steppingstone as well. I want to do the best job I can in the U.S. Senate so that my kids can be proud of my service, so I can do a service to this country that I’m so grateful to. And if I do a good job in the Senate, I think I’ll have opportunities to do other things, maybe outside of politics.
Why does President Obama seem to be so far ahead of Governor Romney in winning the approval of Hispanics?
Some of it is historical. There are many Hispanics in America who are liberal Democrats. Part of it is where you live. Cuban exiles, if they move to Miami, they’re probably going to be Republicans. In New Jersey, they’re Democrats. To me, the Republicans’ efforts to win support among Americans of Hispanic descent is not just about November. It’s about a 10-, 20-year process of making our message something that appeals to people.
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