Facing Reelection, Cruz Stakes Out Far Right in Immigration Fight

Unlike many Republicans from border states—including his fellow Texan, John Cornyn—Cruz wants no path to citizenship for any undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Ted Cruz at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Dec. 6, 2017.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Feb. 13, 2018, 8 p.m.

Ted Cruz wants no part of this immigration debate.

On Monday, the Texas Republican cast the only vote in opposition to the Senate starting debate on a to-be-determined bill that would address the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields young adults who illegally came to the country as children from deportation.

Some hard-right senators have agreed to provide legal status to the 700,000 DACA recipients, arguing that they came to the United States through no fault of their own, in exchange for boosting border-security measures and broadly curtailing future legal immigration.

But Cruz—who faces a potentially tough reelection fight in November—has staked out an even more drastic position: no path to citizenship for any undocumented immigrants.

“I do not believe we should be granting citizenship to people here illegally,” he told National Journal in an interview Tuesday. “Doing so is profoundly unfair to millions of American workers and is inconsistent with the promises we made to the voters.”

Last fall, the Trump administration announced that it would rescind the DACA program created by executive action under President Obama, giving Congress a March 5 deadline to find a legislative solution to a problem that it has failed to address for the past two presidencies. While there is widespread support for giving the recipients legal status, there is little optimism among senators that they’ll pass a bill with the necessary 60 votes this week.

Cruz’s position is an outlier not only in the Senate but particularly for border-state members of Congress. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona have been at the forefront of comprehensive efforts to provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Around 16 percent of DACA recipients live in Texas, more than every state except California, while about 4 percent of DACA recipients live in Arizona, according to the Pew Research Center.

Cruz’s Texas colleague, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, has long been part of bipartisan negotiations, and his welcoming rhetoric on the issue played a role in his receiving 48 percent of the Latino vote in 2014, a point more than his Democratic challenger.

“We all want a solution for these young adults,” Cornyn said in a speech on the Senate floor. “In America, we don’t punish children for the mistakes that their parents make, and we’re not going to punish these young people who are now adults who have been able to go to college and been able to, in many instances, become productive people.”

But while immigration advocates in Texas and Washington are certainly unhappy with Cruz, they also criticize Cornyn for not doing enough in his leadership role.

“There is a special place in our dark soul for him,” said Frank Sharry, a longtime immigration advocate who leads the left-leaning America’s Voice group. “He has a pattern that is unmistakable. He talks a good game, people believe that he’s a bipartisan deal-maker, he lures Democrats into discussions, he plants his flag beyond where they’ll go, and then he siphons off Republican support for anything bipartisan.”

When asked if Cornyn is helpful to leading the effort on DACA, Laura Murillo, president & CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “Well, I’ll say this: He’s in a key position to make this happen.”

The difference between Cornyn and Cruz, she said, was “that Cornyn has at least verbally and in his actions shown that he’s trying to arrive at a consensus.”

A Cornyn aide noted that in the debate over DACA, Cornyn supports the Secure and Succeed Act, which purports to grant a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million DACA-eligible recipients in exchange for boosting border security by $25 billion and limiting family sponsorships to spouses and minor children, excluding parents, siblings, and adult children.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke is challenging Cruz this year and has hit him for his vote. “Texas should be leading the country in rewriting our immigration laws to reflect our values and experience,” he tweeted. “Instead, our senator is the only one not at the table.”

But Cruz is unlikely to face much blowback for that vote this year, even as Hispanics drive much of the state’s population growth.

“Despite the hundred-thousand-plus DACA recipients in Texas, Cruz's 'no' vote is likely to be supported by a majority of Texas's Republican voters, a large majority of Republican primary voters, and is much easier to explain given his brand than a 'yes' vote would have been,” said Joshua Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project. “And in a state in which there are more Republicans than Democrats, this shouldn't impact his general-election prospects.”

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