One of the more memorable exchanges of the recent Republican debate occurred between Rubio and Cruz over paths to legalization for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently thought to be residing in the U.S. The setup of the debate was this: Rubio and Cruz were sparring over intelligence and the use of telephone metadata in the fight against terrorism. Cruz pivoted the debate to one of border security and immigration where he believes he is on firmer ground and can attack Rubio. During the scuffle, Rubio pointed out that Cruz did in fact support a path to legislation. Ever the lawyer that is extremely careful with words and terms, Cruz at one point indicated that, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” The emphasis on “intend” was mine, and I find there to be a carefully constructed amount of future wiggle room for a lawyer in that statement.
Where this gets interesting is that while Cruz is now cynically pouncing on the “Gang of 8” bill that seems to hang like an albatross around Rubio’s neck with the nativist wing of the party, it is clear that Cruz did in fact propose an amendment in 2013 that called for an increase to the H1B visa for skilled workers by 500%, a doubling of legal immigration (including for the low-skilled he now claims are taking everyone else’s jobs), and creating a path to legalization status (but not full citizenship) for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
“I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” – Senator Ted Cruz, Las Vegas Republican Primary Debates
Senator Cruz’s full remarks on the amendment he filed is out for all of the world to see and judge. Note his vociferous support of high-skilled immigration in the first video I have linked, and his support for legalized status for the existing 11 million illegal immigrants in the second video. Some of the key language Cruz employs makes him sound more like a reasonable and compassionate defender of immigration as a centerpiece of the American experience – using terms such as “coming out of the shadows” and “I want immigration reform to pass.” Cruz’s lawyerly threading of the needle in the amendment is to not support citizenship but supporting legalization and work status. While this amendment stance may not be near generous enough for a pro-immigration, free-market oriented person like myself, it is hardly the militant stance Cruz now employs and it also proves his debate statements the other night to be blatantly false and cynical. Since Cruz is so fond of leveling the charge of amnesty at his opponents these days, perhaps we could all benefit if the debate champion could define precisely what amnesty actually means to him.
In response to the fact-checking that many news outlets are doing and no doubt the increasing spike of people watching these videos, the Cruz campaign has indicated that his amendment was actually a poison pill plot to kill off the entire immigration reform bill that the Gang of 8 brought forward in order to get what Cruz wanted all along – zero immigration reform. That leaves Cruz supporters with two equally problematic conundrums from tough-talking “anti-establishment” Ted Cruz: either he did in fact fully support a rapid increase in high-skilled immigration and a path to legalization for the 11 million resident illegal immigrants and he is therefore not the principled ideologue waging war consistently on the border that he passes himself off to be, or he is a schemer and plotter that plays games in Washington. On the latter challenge, to echo the Wall Street Editorial Board in a recent podcast, this is hardly the stuff of anti-establishment dreams.