UPDATE: Rubio gave a sweeping immigration speech where he derided both parties for playing politics with an issue so crucial to Hispanics, acknowledged his own party's shortcomings and called for a compassionate approach to dealing with the country's illegal immigrants. For our ongoing notes throughout the speech, see below.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican on the vice-presidential short list, will speak Friday morning to the Hispanic Leadership Network, former Gov. Jeb Bush's organization. Some 600 people have RSVP's to Friday's conference, which began Thursday night and featured a debate-watching party that appeared on CNN. (Read more about the debate here.)
In the lead-up to Rubio's speech, critics from a group called Presente Action had a propeller plane circling the Doral Golf Resort & Spa with a banner reading, Hey Marco: No Somos Rubios, which translates to "We aren't Rubios." It's a play on words on the word rubio, which in Spanish means blond or fair. The group is attacking Rubio largely over immigration, protesting that the senator doesn't support the pro-immigrant DREAM Act.
For updates on Rubio's speech once it begins, refresh this blog post.
After saying a few words in Spanish, Rubio, who was greeted by a standing ovation, said he got a text message froma friend telling him about the airplane banner. "Marco, we're not blond," he said, translating the banner. "Which, by coincidence, neither am I -- although if I'm in the Senate for another year, I may start being a little bit more gray."
The crowd laughed. Then Rubio immediately went into the issue of immigration -- and a couple of suit-clad protesters stood up, raised signs that said "Marco Rubio -- Latino or Tea-Partino" and asked Rubio why he isn't helping them. "You're an immigrant yourself!" they yelled.
Rubio appeared unfazed. Security approached the protesters while Rubio said, "I ask that you guys let them stay, because I think that they're going to be interested in what I'm going to say." Rubio got a standing ovation. "I don't want them to leave," he repeated. "I want them to stay."
"Let them stay!" chanted the crowd.
But the protesters were escorted out.
"They came here to a crowd that they know may not be friendly," Rubio said. "I think God that I'm in a country where they can do that.
"I'm not who they think I am," he said. "I don't stand for what they claim I stand for."
Then, speaking without notes, an energized Rubio launched into a 20-minute speech his supporters said afterwards was one of the best they have heard throughout the presidential campaign.
"Our country has a broken legal immigration system," he began. "The status quo is unsustainable."
Rubio spoke of bipartisan support for a guest worker system and making it easier for people to obtain U.S. visas. But the policies haven't moved forward, he said, because of politics.
"We must admit that there are those among us that have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and inexcusable," Rubio said. "And we must admit -- myself included -- that sometimes we've been too slow to condemn that language for what it is."
On the left of the political spectrum, politicians too have been guilty, Rubio said, of setting "unrealistic expectations" to appeal to Hispanic voters.
"It's not realistic to expect that you're going to deport 11 million people," he acknowledged. He added later, "No, we cannot legalize 11 million people."
Rubio spoke about his family, at one point appearing to get choked up, trying to make light of controversy stirred last fall when he was forced to correct a mistake on his website saying his parents came to the United States from Cuba after Fidel Castro came into power. They actually left Cuba before. "I got some dates wrong in my parent's immigration history," Rubio said. "And it created some uncomfortable days."
But, he said, it was "a blessing in disguise" to have to review his family's history. He told of his grandfather's polio and hardships and ask the audience to put themselves in the shoes of people in other countries facing similar hardship today for their children.
"There is no fence high enough, there is no ocean wide enough that most of us would not cross to provide to them what they do not have," he said. "I hope never again that young people will have to stand up in an event like this and hold up a sign because the issues been taken care of."
In the end, Rubio cited "The New Colossus," a poem by Emma Lazarus. ("I'm not a big poetry fan," Rubio admitted. "There's nothing wrong with poetry...now I'm going to get the poet people upset. You gotta be careful every vote counts," he joked.) The poem is engraved in a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty.
"A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/Mother of Exiles," Rubio read.
"This is who we were for 225 years. This is who we've been," he said. "The question now is, is this who we will remain?"
He received another standing ovation before leaving, without speaking to reporters.