ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Florida freshman Senator Marco Rubio has defended a misstatement that he's made about his family on many occasions as a case of going by family lore. Rubio's parents were immigrants from Cuba. He's often said that they came after Fidel Castro came to power, which was New Year's Day, 1959. Reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia writes in today's Washington Post that they actually came here earlier than that, in 1956.
In a moment, we'll hear what Rubio told me about his family in Cuba a couple of years ago. But, first, Manuel Roig-Franzia, what's the importance in the distinction between 1956 and 1959?
MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA: It means a lot to people in Southern Florida. It can confer legitimacy to someone if they came after the revolution. And in some cases, people who came before the revolution - in some cases - they're viewed with suspicion that they might have been sympathizers with Batista, the previous leader, or at least not anti-Castro.
SIEGEL: And the source of the date, as you found it, 1956, where does that come from as opposed to the '59 date that Rubio has used?
ROIG-FRANZIA: The parents both sought to become naturalized citizens in 1975 and there was an important date on those documents. It was May 1956. I looked at it and I thought, you know what? Somebody could have done a typo. It could have been a sloppy clerk. A six almost looks like a nine upside down. And so we found, in Dade County Circuit Court records, a official declaration of domicile, which also listed the exact same date for their entry. And that's when I realized that it really was the true date that they had come and that it conflicted with some of the statements that Senator Rubio had said during his career.
SIEGEL: Now, in November of 2009, when Marco Rubio was running for the Republican Senate nomination in Florida, I spent a couple of days with him, first in west Miami where he lives and then as he was campaigning elsewhere in the state. We had a couple of long sit-down interviews and this is what he said on the subject of Cuba and his parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)
SIEGEL: So 1959 is wrong, but there was some later problem with the Castro regime after his mother had gone back he's saying.
ROIG-FRANZIA: If that's what the senator said, I would be inclined to take him at his word. At the same time, I would be interested in seeing documentation that supported that in light of some of these other inconsistencies.
SIEGEL: Senator Rubio says his brother came over at the age of six and you say the documents, his application for naturalization, give his birth date as 1950, which is consistent with his coming over at age six in 1956.
SIEGEL: If Senator Rubio knows how old his brother is, presumably, he would have known he didn't come over in 1959.
ROIG-FRANZIA: It does not take a calculator.
SIEGEL: That's Manuel Roig-Franzia, who is a reporter for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.