Texas Sen. Ted Cruz declined to close the door to a potential pathway to legal status for the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally Friday, saying he wouldn’t elaborate on his plans for them until after the border is secure…

“First we secure the borders,” Cruz said. “First we demonstrate that we can solve this problem so that the flow of those coming into this country will drop effectively to zero.”…

“If we put in place a strong E-Verify system and deport criminal illegal aliens, the number of people here illegally will drop significantly, particularly if there’s not a continual flow of people coming in illegally,” Cruz said.

“At that point, once we’ve demonstrated that we can solve the problem, then we can have a conversation about what to do about whatever people remain illegally,” Cruz added. When asked if that conversation included the potential for a pathway to legal status, he repeated, “We can have that conversation with the American people once we secure the border.”


Since last week’s Republican debate, GOP oddsmakers are increasingly talking up the possibility of a Cruz-Rubio primary fight, a contest that would see two young Cuban-Americans running for the nomination of a party historically led by older white men. Indeed, this could be the outsider vs. insider, conservative vs. establishment faceoff that so many on the right have been angling for.

“They appear,” said Doug Gross, an Iowa Republican who sees Cruz as unelectable, “to be the two biggest talents in the party.”

Indeed, Cruz and Rubio are on a collision course. They argued last week over their respective records on immigration reform as Rubio’s campaign sought to cast doubts on Cruz’s conservative bona fides while Cruz dismissed Rubio’s characterization of his position as “laughingly, blazingly, on its face false.”


Cruz has vowed to rescind all of Obama’s executive actions immediately. But Rubio has dragged his feet when it comes to rolling back Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers. He only came out and said it would have to end after Trump had attacked him over this question, and Rubio still hasn’t clarified when it would end.

And the new president could indeed end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program immediately for the many hundreds of thousands who currently are benefiting from it, according to immigration lawyer David Leopold…

Thus far, it’s plainly obvious that Cruz is more of an immigration hard-liner than Rubio is. But Rubio has time to adjust his positions on DACA and citizenship accordingly, if he so chooses. Of course, if he does that, it might make it harder for him to pivot back to being the GOP’s Great Hispanic Hope in the general election. The question is whether Cruz — along with Donald Trump, who has also been hitting Rubio on these issues — will pull Rubio so far to the right that getting back to that place will become harder.


In an address at an Orlando church and in a proposal released online, Cruz detailed his plan to combat illegal immigration, embracing a deeply conservative vision that would include a ban on birthright citizenship and forbid any increases in legal immigration while unemployment “remains unacceptably high.”…

“The Gang of Eight was a moment when President Obama, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and maybe a Republican or two joined together to push through a massive amnesty bill,” Cruz said Friday in his address, an unmistakable jab at Rubio.

He told reporters after, “In the “Gang of Eight” fight Marco chose to stand with Chuck Schumer and to lead the fight tooth and nail for a massive amnesty plan. I chose to stand with [Alabama Sen.] Jeff Sessions and to lead the fight to defeat amnesty.”


The fight over immigration – and recently, over refugees – has marked a coming out party for a Cruz campaign that until recently was quietly focused on building a formidable ground game and fundraising operation as candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson hogged the spotlight. Now, after a pair of effective debate performances, Cruz is more actively distinguishing himself from his rivals in a position of growing strength…

Cruz’s backers sell his consistency on issues as a core selling point – “Even if you disagree with him, he says what he means,” as one aide put it – but his real trick is carefully reading conservative minds and then translating their thoughts back to them. To that end, Cruz has done more than just avoid criticizing Trump – he has used the real estate mogul as market research to nail down the often unpredictable id of the populist right and then shifted his own positions and rhetoric accordingly.

Take immigration. Until recently, Cruz was not just tolerant of immigration, he was a proud spokesman for its alleged social and economic benefits. Just months ago, he would name-check legislation he had introduced to increase the number of high-skilled H1B visas and would tell audiences these workers had created more jobs for native born workers. 

Then Trump happened, along with an uptick in concern about H1B abuses, and Cruz pulled an about-face in tone and position. Last week, he announced a new plan to freeze immigration levels until the economy improves and has taken to warning in his stump speech that undocumented immigrants are stealing work from deserving Americans.


[W]hile Cruz has been a strong proponent of beefing up border security and withholding citizenship from illegal immigrants, his tone when discussing the topic has changed since Republican front-runner Donald Trump became a fixture atop the polls. Before Trump, Cruz emphasized his support for streamlining and encouraging legal immigration. Post-Trump, Cruz has highlighted his opposition to birthright citizenship, itself the product of a flip-flop that is a couple of years old.

Cruz’s occasional changes of heart are hardly unique among Republicans vying for the nomination, nor are they rampant. But Cruz’s central line of attack against his competitors is that they all talk a good game but can’t be trusted as much as him to tow the conservative line if elected president. That makes Cruz’s flexibility on issues potentially riskier, as it could undercut the main theme driving his candidacy if skillfully exploited by an opponent.

“This stuff matters,” a strategist for an opposing campaign said. “If you set yourself up to be holier than thou and the purest of the pure, then you better be that, or else you look like a total hypocrite, which is deadliest sin in politics.”


When asked about Cruz’s defense Friday, Rubio fired back even more aggressively. “Senator Cruz clearly supported an amendment and he bragged about how it would bring people out of the shadows and legalize people who are here illegally,” Rubio told reporters. “He’s changed his position and he has a right to change his position. But he hasn’t been clear on that to date.”

“The reality is that months after that amendment was offered, Senator Cruz was still talking about [it]. … He had bragged about the fact that it did not undermine the pathway to legalization for people who are in this country illegally,” Rubio said. “So, if it was a messaging amendment, he was still bragging about his position two months after the debate ended.”…

“On other issues regarding immigration, he’s gone much further than I have,” Rubio told reporters, pointing to Cruz’s support for dramatically increasing the number of green cards issued along with visas for highly skilled workers.

“Everybody running for president on the Republican side supports in one way or form some kind of legalization for people who are in this country illegally,” Rubio said. “The debate is what’s the most responsible way to do that.”


On the charge of having advocated for legal immigration, Cruz is guilty. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, Cruz worked for President George W. Bush in the quaint old days when Bush was promoting work visas. Two years ago, when Rubio and his colleagues offered their immigration bill, Cruz proposed amendments that would have doubled the number of green cards (from 675,000 to 1.35 million per year) and quintupled the number of H-1B visas (from 65,000 to 325,000 per year)…

Now Cruz is running away from that record. On Wednesday, his campaign said he no longer favors an increase in H-1B visas. On Thursday, Cruz told conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham that when he offered his amendments in 2013, he was just trying to kill the bill and block amnesty. Ingraham asked Cruz whether, as president, he’d support “increasing the number of foreign workers.” Cruz shrank back: “I don’t believe that’s a good idea.”

What happened to Cruz? He led a right-wing stampede against sensible government, and now he’s being trampled by it. Two years ago, if you endorsed legal immigration but opposed amnesty, you were a staunch, principled conservative. Today, if you try to defend that position, you’re a squish. The law-and-order argument against border-crossers has been replaced by economic and cultural resentments. The new targets of the anti-immigration movement are birthright citizenship, Latin American ancestry, and public use of Spanish. Restrictions on admission to the Republican presidential nomination are tighter than ever. Too tight, perhaps, even for Ted Cruz.


Lost in much of the incessant quibbling is that Rubio has gravitated to Cruz’s position. At this point, they mostly agree.

“Both senators are against a path to citizenship and have promised to end President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Cruz has long stood in opposition to important deportation protections for children of immigrants, calling DACA amnesty. Rubio has also joined in denouncing the program, saying he would end DACA if he were elected.”

That’s from the Democratic research group, American Bridge, which is gleefully and strategically coming to Rubio’s side in this tussle. The headline on the release it has blasted out reads: “Marco Rubio’s Right: He’s As Extreme As Ted Cruz on Immigration.”


“The question comes up over and over again: Can you trust Marco Rubio to govern as a conservative?” said David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, the activist conservative organization that targets Democrats and Republicans it deems too moderate and unprincipled. “That’s really what Marco Rubio is contending with as he runs for president.”…

Asked about the recent clash between the two, Mr. Schumer said Mr. Rubio had never been ambivalent about granting a path to citizenship.

“The facts are the facts,” he said. “Senator Cruz was always against the path to citizenship, and Senator Rubio was for it. He was involved in crafting the path as it went through the whole process.”…

“What still rubs a lot of the opponents the wrong way is that Rubio and his team engaged in all the evasions and misleading salesmanship that inevitably come with this sort of legislation,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, citing, for instance, the strength of provisions requiring that immigrants learn English. He received updates by phone and in person from Mr. Rubio throughout the process.


A fundamental and, as it turned out, fatal flaw of the Gang of Eight was apparent the first day Rubio and his fellow lawmakers announced the reform project, on Jan. 28, 2013. “On day one of our bill, the people without status who are not criminals or security risks will be able to live and work here legally,” Rubio’s co-author, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, said in a press conference with Rubio and the rest of the Gang.

Conservatives — the ones who remembered the debacle of the 1986 immigration deal, in which legalization of illegal immigrants came first but promised border security measures never happened — were stunned. They demanded that new border security and interior enforcement measures be in place and running before legalization…

“Let’s be clear,” Rubio said [in 2013]. “Nobody is talking about preventing the legalization. The legalization is going to happen. That means the following will happen: First comes the legalization. Then come the measures to secure the border. And then comes the process of permanent residence.”

Later in the interview, Rubio stressed that he would not insist on security measures as a condition for legalizing currently illegal immigrants. “As for the legalization, the enormous majority of my colleagues have accepted that it has to happen and that it has to begin at the same time we begin the measures for [the border],” Rubio said. “It is not conditional. The legalization is not conditional.”


The Gang of 8, which included Rubio, avoided “enforcement first” with a clever trick: Illegals would indeed be legalized first –a few months after the bill passed — but only on a “provisional” basis. They just wouldn’t be able to get permanent legal status until various (in practice, ephemeral) enforcement benchmarks had been reached.  The set-up was a scam because even “provisional” legal status would shift the balance of power firmly in favor of those trying to undermine enforcement. After all, if the wall wasn’t built, or e-Verify wasn’t implemented, were the millions of “provisional” work permits already given going to be revoked? Answer: No. The ACLU, La Raza and Democratic pols would in practice, be free to try to stop enforcement in the courts and the bureaucracy. Soon they’d have millions more new illegal immigrants to amnesty.

The Gang of 8 scam isn’t dead. Speaker Paul Ryan’s immigration plan — posted on his web site — repeats it, granting quick “probationary status” and leaving only the transition to permanent legal status contingent on enforcement.

Does Rubio’s plan continue the scam as well? That’s the crucial question. It’s hard to tell, from his recent pronouncements.  Rubio’s good at hiding the ball — he doesn’t address the “when, exactly, are they first legalized” issue head on. If you hear him on Hannity, it sounds like he hasn’t ruled out some sort of instant “temporary” legalization. But if you carefully parse his words on NPR, it sure seems (at 1:23) like he says illegals can come forward and apply for permits only “after” the enforcement has actually happened…

The fact that he’s left the answer as vague as he has until now suggests what the answer is.


Cruz’s comments, on a program with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, set off a war of words between the two senators, both children of immigrants, with each arguing the other was soft on illegal immigration. And that is raising concerns among some party strategists that the high-profile fight could further alienate Latino and Asian-American voters, wrecking the party’s chances in a general election where 30 percent of the electorate is projected to be non-white.

“This is disaster on all kinds of different levels,” said John Feehery, a veteran Republican strategist and lobbyist. “I’ve always been concerned that if we don’t get immigration right we have no chance to win this. And right now it doesn’t look like we are getting it right or we’re going to get it right.”…

“I have a huge concern. If you look at where Donald Trump is with Hispanic voters, he literally is in the sewer,” said [Katie Packer] Gage, referring to the GOP front-runner, who has promised to deport an estimated 11 million people now living illegally in the U.S. “For now I don’t think Hispanic voters necessarily equate that with the party.” But Gage said that perception could readily change given Trump’s long tenure as the front-runner, combined with “candidates like Ted Cruz trying to drive our party further to the right” on the immigration issue. “It’s a problem,” she said…

Steve Schmidt, the senior campaign strategist for John McCain, the Republicans’ 2008 presidential nominee, said the party need to raise its share of the Hispanic vote by double-digits from the 27 percent Romney won. “Democrats have many many demographic advantages” in the electoral college, Schmidt said. “It’s very difficult to see how Republicans put the math together without getting 40 percent of the Latino votes.”