Esther Yu Hsi Lee
Immigration Reporter at ThinkProgress.
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3 hrs ago

Marco Rubio’s glaringly hypocritical tribute to Cuban defector Jose Fernandez

Fernandez lived the ultimate immigrant’s American dream.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to honor the late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez — a Cuban defector at the age of 15 who became an American citizen last year — as “the embodiment of the American Dream.”

Fernandez was 24 when he died in a boating accident on Sunday.

“Jose Fernandez was the pride of Miami,” Rubio said during his emotional tribute. “When Miami saw Jose on the mound, they saw more than just a great athlete. They saw their hopes and dreams and aspirations, all we are and all we could be. And we said to ourselves, ‘This is what the American Dream looks like. And, boy, is the American Dream alive and well.’”

As Rubio explained it, Fernandez failed to flee Cuba three times, before succeeding the fourth time when he almost lost his mother who was swept overboard. They swam to the U.S. together with her gripping his back. Fernandez became a legal immigrant thanks to the U.S. “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allows Cubans who reach the country to apply for legal permanent residency after one year. He became a U.S. citizen last year.

“Jose’s story was our story,” Rubio said. “Because he reminds so many in my community of someone they know, of a brother or their son or their nephew. Jose represented not just all of us who were fortunate to live our own American Dream, he represents countless others who never made it — the ones who lie in unmarked graves along the Florida Straits, who died in political prisons in Cuba, who sent their children to America hoping to join them later only never to see them again...”

Rubio’s homage to Fernandez was no doubt embodied a heartfelt sentiment that echoes the shock many Miami residents and baseball enthusiasts felt when they heard about the accident that also killed two other people. In fact, Fernandez’s own arrival to the United States also resonates with about one-third of Miami residents who themselves are refugees or children of refugees.

Yet Rubio’s tribute to Fernandez’s story of struggle and survival mirrors what many undocumented immigrants undergo. The vast majority of the undocumented population have deep roots in the country, with strong family and social connections. And they, too, came to America with “hopes and dreams and aspirations.” As a 2013 Latino Decisions poll found, at least 87 percent of undocumented immigrants would apply for citizenship if an immigration reform bill passed.

As of late, Rubio’s praise has not extended to the undocumented population. In fact, during his presidential campaign run, Rubio said that he wouldn’t support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and that he wouldn’t extend deportation protection to certain young undocumented immigrants. He also filed legislation in April that would make it difficult for some Cuban immigrants to be given refugee status and to qualify for food stamps and Medicaid.

But Rubio isn’t the only congressional member to make a glaring distinction that separates Fernandez out as an exceptional immigrant. State Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL) tweeted out a tribute to Fernandez on Sunday, despite previously claiming that undocumented immigrants are “sucking us dry.”