Ted Cruz’s Immigration Reversal

Manu Raju, CNN, January 6, 2016

On the campaign trail, Ted Cruz says he’s the “consistent conservative”–the one candidate who always sticks to his principles.

But on immigration, that’s an open question.

The Texas senator has long been a fierce proponent of expanding legal immigration and visas for high-skilled workers, so much so that he repeatedly broke with immigration hardliners like Sen. Jeff Sessions during Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings in 2013. Now, Cruz is advocating a tough approach that would impose a temporary halt on legal immigration–a significant reversal for a senator who espoused more moderate positions on immigration in Congress than on the campaign trail.

While much of the recent scrutiny on Cruz’s immigration record has been on whether he backs legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, there is no doubt that Cruz was a staunch advocate of opening U.S. borders for those entering into the United States through the proper legal channels. He fought to allow more legal immigrants into the United States during the Senate’s most consequential immigration debate since George W. Bush’s presidency.

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Cruz ultimately opposed the so-called Gang of Eight bill, which was co-authored by his chief presidential rival, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and would have been the most expansive rewrite of immigration laws in nearly three decades. He now says he wouldn’t give permanent legal status to any of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and touts his role in leading the fight in the Senate Judiciary Committee to kill the bill.

But a CNN review of the committee transcripts shows that not once did he use the word “amnesty” in describing illegal immigration during the five days of lengthy deliberations, a common mantra for Cruz on the campaign trail today. And he sought to both double the cap of legal immigration from 675,000 to 1.3 million and pushed for a dramatic increase of 500% for high-skilled H-1B visas to 325,000.

When Sessions, the Alabama Republican, sought to issue stringent new caps on visas issued to foreigners from across the globe, Cruz pushed back.

“I intend to vote no on this amendment, and the reason is I think legal immigration is a fundamental pillar of our country,” Cruz said at the committee debate. “And I think, as a nation, we need to remain a nation that doesn’t just welcome, but that celebrates legal immigrants around this table.”

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In November, under pressure from conservative talk radio and Rubio, Cruz issued an immigration plan that went even further right than Sessions’ 2013 amendment, which the Texas Republican opposed. The new plan would in part halt all legal immigration until the unemployment rate decreases. The new plan also would end birthright citizenship, suspend the H-1B visa program for 180 days to investigate alleged abuses and deny certain government aid to legal immigrants.

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On Tuesday, Cruz’s campaign unveiled an ad showcasing a tough approach on the issue.

“If I’m elected president, we will triple the border patrol. We will build a wall that works. Will secure the border,” he said.

The ad comes after Cruz has been vaulting in the polls here in Iowa, where he has been endorsed by Rep. Steve King, a leading immigration hardliner. He told an Iowa voter this week that he would prevent deported immigrants from reentering the country, moving to the right of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump on the issue.

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When pressed on his amendments in recent weeks, Cruz has said it was part of a concerted strategy to tank the bill. Speaking to Laura Ingraham on her radio show before Thanksgiving, Cruz said he no longer backs expanding H-1B visas and he cited abuses of the program in recent years.

“I don’t believe that’s a good idea,” Cruz told the radio host of a dramatic expansion of H-1B visas. “It’s important to understand on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was leading the fight along with Jeff Sessions to defeat this bill, the Gang of Eight bill. As a result, I was introducing a whole series of amendments, in part, to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Democrats.”

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But that’s hardly how he couched it in the 2013 deliberations. Cruz said that he was working in “good faith” to “improve” the bill so it could pass Congress and be signed into law. “We’re actually trying to be helpful,” he said during the committee markup.

On the campaign trail, his positioning has come under attack from Trump as well.

Speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Trump said the Texas Republican is “weak” on this issue, saying he was “copying” his plan, where the brash businessman proposed increasing the prevailing wage requirements for H-1B visa workers to discourage companies from hiring cheaper overseas workers.

“Ted Cruz is trying to step up his whole game on amnesty and illegal immigration, because it was actually quite weak,” Trump said.

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