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opinion | Marcela García

Marco Rubio is GOP’s lone hope on immigration

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio

When President Obama announced his executive order last week, offering deportation relief to millions of unauthorized immigrants, he gave an electroshock of sorts to the politics of immigration. Now, Republicans risk being stuck between a rock and a conservative place as they weigh a multitude of options. Their best answer may be Marco Rubio.

The Florida senator co-sponsored the bipartisan immigration bill that the Senate approved last year and that the House of Representatives refused to vote on later. Essentially, he led the country the closest it’s come so far to transforming the current dysfunctional system. He also anticipated the president’s executive order: He sent a letter to Obama in August urging him to avoid executive action, instead proposing to tackle the issue through “a series of sequential pieces of legislation.”

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Rubio was refreshingly pragmatic in the letter, admitting that “there is no realistic path forward on comprehensive reform for the foreseeable future.” He’s right that the piecemeal approach may be the only way to move beyond the GOP rhetoric and congressional stalemate. And it’s compatible with Obama’s exercise of presidential power. Almost every change in immigration law in the last 50 years has been preceded by a presidential executive order.

Rubio has since distanced himself from his own immigration bill, and like most of the Republican establishment, he criticized Obama’s actions last week. But he still has an opportunity to move the issue forward in the Senate. (Jeb Bush is the other inevitable GOP “presidentiable” who speaks about immigration reform in practical terms. Rubio has the chance to actually make it happen.)

So the stage is set for Rubio to do Obama and the Democrats one better. It’s a foregone conclusion that the GOP brand needs a reboot before 2016 — that is, if the party wants to win more than the paltry 27 percent of the Latino vote that Mitt Romney won in 2012. Rather than let Republicans wallow in anti-immigrant rhetoric, Rubio would be wise to devise a strategy to steal the Democrats’ thunder.

Marcela García is a regular contributor to the Globe opinion pages. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa.