Ted Cruz Revives Romney's "Self Deportation" As His Immigration Policy

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Ted Cruz

In a recent interview with NBC’s Kasie Hunt, Ted Cruz was reluctant to specify what constitutes “amnesty” since he’s been trying to pin the A-word on his opponent Marco Rubio.

Finally, he offered up this definition: “forgiving the law-breaking of those who come here illegally and have no consequences – in particular a path to citizenship.”  When pressed on whether a path to legal status constitutes “amnesty” Cruz did not answer and walked away.

Probably for good reasons.  First, Cruz supported a path to legal status but not citizenship in the 2013 debate – something he’s loath to admit now that he’s attacking Rubio for supporting the bill that emerged from the Senate that year.   Second, his definition of “amnesty” does not come close to describing the path to citizenship provision included in the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill.

The Senate’s citizenship path included an array of requirements – from passing background checks to paying a fine to maintaining continuous employment to paying taxes to learning English to waiting at least 13 years – that is a far cry from what Cruz characterizes as “no consequences.”  Third, Cruz is straining to get to Rubio’s right without landing in Trump’s dystopic vision of mass deportation for 11 million immigrants and 5 million of their U.S. citizen children.

Despite the confusion Cruz is sowing about “amnesty,” he is being quite clear and explicit about his larger immigration policy vision – and it looks an awful lot like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” plan.Here is how Cruz summarized his immigration stance in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday: 

“Under the Cruz immigration plan, we will start by securing the border. Now that means number one, we will build a wall that works. Current U.S. law, and you know this very well, Hugh, requires 700 miles of double-layered fencing. And the Obama administration has only allowed 36 miles to be built. I will follow the law, and we will build a fence and a wall that works. We will triple the Border Patrol. We will increase fourfold fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. We will put in place a biometric exit/entry system on visas. We will put in place a strong E-verify system. You can’t get a job without demonstrating you’re here legally … And so your question, what do you do about the people who are here illegally? Once we secure the border, you stop filling the boat that sinking, a number of people start to go home voluntarily every year to be with their families. That population will start shrinking. After that, you deport the criminal illegal aliens. The population continues to shrink. After that, you put in place strong E-verify so those here illegally can’t get jobs. The population continues to shrink. And then once we have finally demonstrated to the American people that we have secured the border, the problem’s solved, it’s not a promise from a politician, it’s not empty words, it’s been done, then and only then, I think we should have a conversation with the American people about what we should do about whatever smaller population remains. But I don’t think we should start there at the front end. We should start with border security, and that’s what I’ll do as president.”

While Cruz avoids the label, there’s no doubt that what he calls a “secure the border first” approach is nearly identical to what Mitt Romney called “self-deportation.”  As Cruz makes clear, the idea is to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they pick up go home.

As Cruz puts it, “the population will start shrinking…you put in place strong E-Verify so those here illegally can’t get jobs…the population continues to shrink…”  The major difference between Cruz and Romney is that Cruz refuses to take a path to legal status off the table – something he appears to be open to only after millions have been effectively expelled and the population is much smaller.  Romney, on the other hand, branded Newt Gingrich with the A-word in the 2012 primary when Gingrich called for a path to legal status – not citizenship – for a limited number of undocumented immigrants.

And Rubio?  He now opposes the comprehensive immigration reform approach he championed in early 2013 (he voted for the Senate bill; Cruz voted against it).  On the trail, Rubio argues for a step-by-step approach that is remarkably similar to the one espoused by Cruz: border security, mandatory E-Verify, entry-exit systems, legal immigration reforms, and then, after a decade or so of ferocious enforcement, perhaps a conversation about the fate of the remaining undocumented.  The major differences?  First, Cruz is against a path to citizenship even after he forces millions of undocumented immigrants out of the country, while Rubio is prepared to keep citizenship on the table but only after he forces millions of undocumented immigrants out of the country.  Second, Cruz has joined the Trump wing on legal immigration, calling for new restrictions, including a temporary halt to business-backed high-skilled work visas, while Rubio champions expansive employment-based legal immigration (and cuts in family immigration, a category that enabled his parents to immigrate to America).

Let’s review.  Donald Trump has revived the radical notion of mass deportation, once consigned to the fever swamps of the far right.  Ted Cruz has embraced a Romneyesque vision of self-deportation under the guise of the GOP’s ‘border security first’ mantra, with a Trumpian approach to legal immigration added for the sake of Trump’s voters he hopes to inherit.  Marco Rubio similarly hides behind the “border security first’ mantra while embracing the same sort of unrelenting enforcement as Cruz.

This, too, adds up to self-deportation, even as Rubio strains to still appear sympathetic to immigrants and immigration.  In addition, all three promise to rescind the executive actions of the President, including the one that has benefited some 700,000 Dreamers.  There you have it. The putative frontrunners for the GOP nomination can be located on the far-right span between mass deportation and self-deportation. 

In the America they hope to lead, millions of hardworking immigrant families would be expelled from jobs and communities they call home and either shipped out or driven out. 

It shows how far the center of gravity on immigration has moved to the right in this race; and given Romney’s poor performance with Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters in 2012, it strongly suggests that the GOP is headed for an electoral disaster with the fastest growing groups of voters in American come the 2016 general election.

Follow Frank Sharry and America’s Voice on Twitter: @FrankSharry and @AmericasVoice America's Voice -- Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform www.americasvoiceonline.org  

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