(WASHINGTON) -- In a speech designed to cement an overwhelming 69 Senate ayes for immigration reform just before the historic vote and to bolster his blossoming national political career, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said from the Senate floor, “I support this reform, not just because I believe in immigrants, but because I believe in America even more.”
The emotional speech built on his months of support for the Senate "Gang of Eight" immigration bill. The legislation that Rubio helped write is said to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and sends $30 billion to the border to pay for more agents, military hardware and fencing. It passed during a final vote on Thursday.
In the past, Rubio has mostly based his debate on economic impact and security of the nation. Thursday, he spoke from the heart, telling his own family history of immigrating from Cuba.
My father had someone actually phonetically write on a small piece of paper the words, “I am looking for work,” Rubio said on the floor. “He memorized those words. Those were literally the first words he learned to speak in English.”
The Florida senator outlined the experience of his family – also shared in his book An American Son – of coming to America and looking for a better life while “homesick for Cuba,” even considering a return until Castro and Communism took over.
He recalled a “magical night in 1969″ when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and how his mother realized “nothing was impossible.”
“Before they ever became citizens, in their hearts they had already become Americans,” he said. “It reminds us sometimes that we focus so much on how immigrants could change America, that we forget that America has always changed immigrants even more.”
The conservative senator, who called for stricter border enforcement throughout the debate, drew up the Statue of Liberty, quoting the poem, as an example of the America that welcomed so many immigrants.
“For over 200 years now they have come in search of liberty and freedom for sure,” he said. “But often just in search of a job to feed their kids and a chance at a better life. From Ireland and Poland, from Germany and France, from Mexico and Cuba, they have come.”
“They have come because in the land of their birth, their dreams were bigger than their opportunities. Here they brought their language and their customs, their religions and their music, and somehow they’ve made them ours as well,” Rubio said. “Even with all our challenges, we remain that shining city on a hill. We are still the hope of the world. Go to our factories and our fields, go to the kitchens and construction sites, go to the cafeterias in this very capitol and there you will find that the miracle of America is still alive. For here in America those who once had no hope will give their kids the chance at a life they always wanted for themselves."
“Here in America generations of unfulfilled dreams will finally come to pass,” he said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio