Florida senator Marco Rubio
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

When Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015 and announced his candidacy for president, I was amazed to see his initial pitch single out Mexico for scorn.

“They’re sending us not the right people,” he said, adding: “The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing their problems,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting.”

He promised that as President Trump, one of his first actions would be to build a “great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall”.

It seemed pretty disconnected from reality. The only example I could think of involving a foreign nation dumping undesirable people on our shores was Fidel Castro’s Cuba. As the Miami Herald memorialized back in 2016, the Mariel boatlift took place between April and September 1980. Here’s a taste of how that went:

For all, Mariel was an unforgettable experience.

“It simply changed my life,” said [Lula] Rodríguez, now doing consulting work on corporate communications in Miami.

She says that the plight of many Mariel refugees remains seared in her memory and that the exodus made her realize just how terrible the Castro regime was.

“I saw people who were taken from mental hospitals, ” Rodríguez recalled in a recent interview. “Many of them were dazed. They asked questions like ‘when is the doctor going to see me?’ They were not even aware that they were in another country. That’s when I realized the monstrosity of Fidel Castro.”

…When [Cesar] Odio arrived at Artime, a crowd had gathered outside — mostly relatives of the arriving refugees. The large number of relatives calmed his fears that the refugee wave would swamp city resources.

But Odio’s initial optimism faded when he saw some of the passengers on the first boats.

“It was an example of what Fidel Castro was sending us, ” Odio said. “Criminals and crazies, who had no families here. I began to worry.”

Despite this, the criminal element in the exodus has been badly exaggerated, and thirty-six years later the boat lift is not seen as any kind of disaster for the country.

On balance, Odio and other former officials said, Miami and Miami-Dade benefited from Mariel because the majority of the refugees went on to become successful citizens.

“Mariel was very bad in the beginning, but it was very good in the end, ” Ferre summed up. “The vast majority of these people were honest, decent, hard working, industrious people . . . who are now doctors, bankers, entrepreneurs and who really uplifted the community.”

Now, Marco Rubio did not come to America on the Mariel boat lift. He was born in Miami in 1971. His parents had emigrated to this country in 1956, and not in response to Castro’s 1959 revolution as Rubio has often suggested. His mom and dad were not naturalized as American citizens until 1975, so Marco would most definitely be considered a candidate for non-citizenship if the 14th Amendment were modified to eliminate birthright citizenship. Of course, Cuba was always in a special category because this country officially welcomed anyone who could escape the island. In every other respect, though, Rubio is in the same category as anyone else who was born here to foreigners or guests.

Yet, he doesn’t seem to have any self-awareness about this:

That tweet is Senator Rubio’s response to President Trump’s announcement that he intends to do away with birthright citizenship, and that from legal scholars that this would be unconstitutional. Conservatives are arguing that the 14th Amendment was only intended to assure citizenship to slaves and not to every Juan, Ricardo and Enrique who wades across the Rio Grande. So, under this novel theory, a true “originalist” understanding of the 14th Amendment would make it permissible to deny American-born babies automatic citizenship.

You might remember that the Mariel boat lift was depicted in the movie Scarface.

Tony Montana manages to leave Cuba during the Mariel exodus of 1980. He finds himself in a Florida refugee camp but his friend Manny has a way out for them: undertake a contract killing and arrangements will be made to get a green card. He’s soon working for drug dealer Frank Lopez and shows his mettle when a deal with Colombian drug dealers goes bad.

You probably don’t know that Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law was a key figure in one of the largest cocaine smuggling and distribution gangs in the country’s history. In fact, this gang was a model for Scarface and also informed plot lines in the 1980’s television show Miami Vice.

In 1985, Marco Rubio spent part of his early summer living in a small house facing a tepid canal just north of Bird Road in West Kendall. Cages full of squawking macaws filled the acre yard. And a major drug ring stored kilos of cocaine in a spare bedroom, sliced it into bricks, and packed it inside cigarette cases to smuggle around the United States.

Florida’s future junior senator was 14 years old when he lived for a short time in the house, which belonged to his brother-in-law, the coke ring’s frontman. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having a drug-dealing relative. Ever since Univision outed his brother-in-law’s ties to the drug trade in 2011, Rubio has steadfastly sworn that neither he nor his parents knew anything about the criminal gang.

But previously unreported testimony — taken from a review of more than 700 pages of federal court records — casts doubt on his story. The revelation comes as Rubio faces a tight reelection bid in which his honesty has become a major issue. The former Florida House speaker has already been caught lying about his family’s past. And he recently spent months campaigning for president while promising voters he wouldn’t run again for Senate, then reneged.

The testimony, part of a 1987 federal case against Rubio’s brother-in law, makes clear the West Kendall residence, where Rubio also worked for months after moving out, was an important hub for the $75 million cocaine operation. Two law enforcement officials who worked on the Cocaine Cowboys-era case say they doubt anyone could have lived and worked there regularly without catching a hint of what was up.

“For anyone to argue that teens or adults living at this time in Miami didn’t know their family members were in the coke business is total horseshit,” says Michael Fisten, a former Miami-Dade homicide detective who’s writing a book about the case. “My own brother was involved in the dope business, and I knew it immediately.”

I actually wrote all about this in a 2015 New Year’s Eve post called Marco Rubio’s Miami Vice Problem. Among the highlights is the time Rubio’s brother-in-law was involved in killing an informant who was working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They chopped up his body with a chainsaw and lit in on fire. Not to worry, though. In 2002, while serving as the Majority Whip in the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio urged state regulators to grant a real estate license to his brother-in-law who had just completed his 11  1/2  year prison sentence.

“I have known Mr. Cicilia for over 25 years,” Rubio wrote in a July 1, 2002, letter to an official in the Real Estate Division of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. “I recommend him for licensure without reservation. If I can be of further assistance on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.”

Naturally, Rubio didn’t mention in the letter that that he was married to his Mr. Cicilia’s sister, or that he had once lived with the notorious cocaine kingpin while he was at the height of his powers.

It just seems to me like Marco Rubio is uniquely unqualified to take a hardline on immigration because other countries don’t send us their best. After all, if Trump knew his history, what would he say?

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com