Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is citing his Cuban immigrant parents as Exhibit A against a Heritage Foundation's study that claims immigration reform could cost U.S. taxpayers trillions.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Rubio pushed back against a core assumption made by the Heritage study: that undocumented immigrants who receive legal status will be more likely to rely on public welfare due to their low levels of education and work skills.
"That's certainly not my family's experience in the U.S. The folks described in that report are my family," Rubio said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "My mother and dad didn't graduate high school and I would not say they were a burden on the United States."
Rubio is a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that helped craft the Senate's immigration reform bill and he spoke out against the Heritage Foundation study for the first time on Tuesday.
The Florida senator has a complex relationship with the conservative think tank. Its president is former Sen. Jim DeMint, who was an early backer of Rubio's upstart 2010 Senate campaign. But now, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the immigration debate.
The Heritage Foundation report, which claims that the bill could cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, could gain traction amongst deficit-conscious Republicans on Capitol Hill. But conservatives who back immigration have strongly pushed back against the report, saying that it downplays or ignores the potential economic benefits of overhauling the nation's immigration system.
Rubio's mother in particular has reportedly influenced his thinking on the issue of immigration. According to Time magazine, she called him in December to encourage him to treat undocumented immigrants fairly.
"Some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world," she said in Spanish. "Don't mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don't mess with them ... They're human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don't mess with them."
Rubio said Tuesday that his parents' story proves that it's natural for immigrants to attain greater wage levels over time.
"My parents were a lot better off 25 years after they emigrated here than they were when they first got here," he said. "And their children certainly have been. I still think we're that country. And I still think we can be that country and even more in the future, so I guess I just have a lot more believe [sic] in the future of the country than some of the folks that helped prepare it."
The GOP senator said that the Heritage study does raise "some valid points" about the cost of federal welfare and entitlement programs, but that doesn't necessarily have to do with immigration reform.
"That's not just true for immigrants; that's true for everybody," he said. "I think the report, as much as anything else, is an argument for welfare reform and entitlement reform. Not necessarily an anti-illegal immigration reform study."