Yes, Ted Cruz Did Support ‘Amnesty’ for Illegal Immigrants

Even though immigration is a top concern of only 10 percent of Americans, ever since Donald Trump entered the Republican race talking about deporting illegal immigrants and building a “big beautiful wall,” the debate about the issue has changed dramatically, including for one candidate who’s billed himself as an implacable rock of conservative principle, Ted Cruz.

Now that he’s managed to shove aside fellow Religious Right candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, Cruz is going hard after the other top-ranked candidate besides Trump, Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has a quite a conservative voting record which would make that difficult except for the fact that he earned the perpetual distrust of many on the right with his work on the so-called “Gang of Eight” bill that passed the Senate in August of 2013. The legislation created a path to citizenship for some immigrants currently living in the country without authorization to the great consternation of many conservative activists.

The bill, which failed in the House and never became law, was brought to the fore in Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas where it was a flashpoint between Cruz and Rubio with the former accusing the latter of trying to “muddy the waters” by falsely implying that he had formerly been in favor of granting a type of legal status to undocumented immigrants in the past.

“Did Ted Cruz fight to support legalizing people that are in this country illegally?” Rubio asked.

Cruz was insistent that he had not.

“I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization,” he stated firmly.

Those words will come back to haunt him because the facts are pretty clear that Cruz did, in fact support legalization—but not citizenship. As talk radio host Erick Erickson noted yesterday, “Contrary to what Cruz said Tuesday night, he too did favor a pathway for legalization of some illegal immigrants, though not necessarily citizenship.”

Cruz could easily have admitted this and then claimed that Donald Trump helped him see the error of his ways, just like he changed his position on H1B visas for high-skilled workers. It would have been simple to do so and his supporters would surely have accepted the explanation.

Instead of doing that, Cruz has embarked on a shaky plan to deny his own record. Despite his angry pronouncement, the facts indicate that during the debate over the Gang of Eight bill, Cruz offered several amendments to grant legal status but not citizenship and to beef up border protection. Cruz was quite clear on this during a session of the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21, 2013:

If legislation that includes a path to citizenship passes, like it did in 1986, I have little doubt that we will be back here in 20-30 years with not just 11 million, but 20-30 million. We need a solution that respect the rule of law and ensures that there are meaningful consequences to breaking the law. If this amendment is adopted to the current bill, the effect will be that those 11 million will still be eligible for RPI status, for legal status, and for LPR status, and would be out of the shadows. This amendment would allow that to happen. It would remove the path of citizenship that shows there are real consequence that respect the rule of law and treat legal immigrants with the fairness they deserve. […]

In my opinion, the current bill does not fix the problem. It may incentivize further illegal immigration, further exploitation. I think anyone can have an opportunity to become a citizen, if you come legally. And one way to do that is to expand legal immigration. Tying immigration reform hostage to a path to citizenship is not a strategy to passing a bill. […]

I want immigration reform to pass, so if the objective is the pass common sense immigration reform, then we should look for areas of bipartisan agreement to come together. and if this amendment pass, the chances of this bill becoming law would be greater.I want common sense immigration reform to pass. I think our immigration system is broken. I think there are large majorities who want to get immigration reform to pass. This bill does not stop the problem. Human tragedy would flow as a direct result of this bill. I believe this bill will not become law because it will not pass the House of Representatives and become law. In the course of this mark-up, I’ve introduced 5 amendments. One of the greatest failings of this bill is that it is almost utterly toothless with respect to the border. I think it is unfortunate that we saw the votes that we did.

The Cruz presidential campaign is now claiming that the senator’s attempted amendments and statements were only designed to be so-called “poison pills,” a legislative trick designed to get supporters of a bill to vote against it. That was also the line Cruz took in an interview yesterday with Fox News anchor Bret Baier:

But that does not square with the fact that weeks after the legislation failed in the House, Cruz was still talking up how he wanted to grant permanent resident status to illegal immigrants in an interview with the Texas Tribune in September:

Immigration-reform legislation from the Senate’s so-called Gang of Eight passed that chamber in June and includes a 13-year path to citizenship. Cruz pushed unsuccessfully for amendments that would have, among other things, eliminated the citizenship component.

Asked about what to do with the people here illegally, however, he stressed that he had never tried to undo the goal of allowing them to stay.

“The amendment that I introduced removed the path to citizenship, but it did not change the underlying work permit from the Gang of Eight,” he said during a recent visit to El Paso. Cruz also noted that he had not called for deportation or, as Mitt Romney famously advocated, self-deportation.

Cruz said recent polling indicated that people outside Washington support some reform, including legal status without citizenship. He said he was against naturalization because it rewarded lawbreakers and was unfair to legal immigrants. It also perpetuates illegal crossings, he added.

Besides barring citizenship while instituting some level of legalization for those here already, Cruz has proposed increasing the number of green cards awarded annually, to 1.35 million from 675,000. He also wants to eliminate the per-country limit that he said left applicants from countries like Mexico, China and India hamstrung when they tried to gain legal entry to this country.

Update: The September 2013 interview with the Tribune is also interesting because Cruz explicitly used the term “poison pill” as a means of denouncing Democrats for allegedly trying to block any kind of legalization as a means of scoring points against Republicans. This is consistent with his earlier remark that he wanted to bring illegal immigrants “out of the shadows.”

Cruz said the Obama administration and partisan Democrats would not yield on the citizenship requirement, which they know would kill the entire effort because of a lack of support in the House. The result, he said, will be a future campaign tool by which Democrats can blame Republicans for failing to overhaul immigration.

“If your objective is actually to pass a bill insisting on a path to citizenship, it is in both intent and effect a poison pill,” he said, adding that he thinks many of the immigration groups working on the issue are “being taken advantage of.” […]

Cruz has said the stalemate is denying help to farmers and ranchers who “have a real need for labor resources.”

With Donald Trump in the race, it’s obvious why Cruz has changed his position. What’s not obvious is why he refuses to admit it.

Update II. Responding to this post on Twitter, several people have questioned the accuracy of the Texas Tribune piece, stating that it was putting words into Cruz’s mouth. Fortunately for accuracy’s sake, in March of this year, Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier was asked specifically about his statements in the Tribune article. She confirmed that the piece was accurate and that the senator did indeed support legal status for undocumented immigrants:

Asked by MSNBC about where Cruz stands now on legalization, campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said that the senator has been “consistent” and confirmed that the views he expressed in the Tribune had not changed. She described his amendment to the Senate “gang of eight” bill as an effort “to improve a very bad bill” that he ultimately opposed.

While Frazier said Cruz fought the bill’s path to citizenship because it “flies in the face of the rule of law,” she declined to apply the same label when asked about legal status in the right circumstances.

“I think his main priority is dealing with the border security component and making sure that we know who is coming into the country and making sure that we have control over who is coming into the country and then we can deal with what to do with the people who are already here,” she said. […]

The idea anyone could get to the right of Cruz on immigration, who has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government to defund Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” might come as a surprise. But by the terms of the immigration debate set out so far, his bona fides could absolutely come into question. Many conservatives, including the leading anti-immigration groups, consider any policy that falls short of deportation “amnesty.”  It’s this fundamental divide, far more than any argument over legalization vs. citizenship, that has paralyzed GOP attempts at immigration reform.

“The baseline is anything that lets illegal aliens stay illegally,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors reducing immigration levels, told MSNBC. “Anything else is word games.”

Hat tip: Stanley Tedwick.

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