Even as he makes immigration a central issue in his presidential campaign, there are two important questions on the topic that Republican Senator Ted Cruz has repeatedly declined to answer.
The first is what to do about the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. The second is whether granting them some form of legal status (even something short of a path to citizenship) amounts to “amnesty.”
“I consider amnesty to be forgiving the law-breaking of those who come here illegally and having no consequences and in particular, a path to citizenship,” he told reporters in Clinton, Iowa, before a campaign event, when asked to define the term.
Pressed on whether legal status for undocumented immigrants amounted to amnesty, Cruz moved on and took a different question. As the news conference ended, the Texan was asked that question again, and declined to say.
Cruz has proposed what he calls the “most aggressive” plan to crack down on illegal immigration, but it's silent on how to handle the current undocumented population. One of his rivals, Donald Trump, has proposed mass deportation, an idea criticized for being wildly expensive (more than $400 billion, according to one conservative estimate). Another rival, Senator Marco Rubio, is open to a path to eventual citizenship, a position Cruz has blasted as “amnesty” (though Cruz hasn't said if he believes legal status without a path to citizenship also counts as “amnesty”).
An e-mail to reporters by Rubio's campaign declared that “Senator Cruz is proving to be rather consistent only in dodging questions.”
Cruz has struggled to find a safe place in between, and said in recent months he won’t discuss what to do about people in the country illegally until the border is “secure.”
So Bloomberg Politics put the question to Cruz in an exclusive interview Monday afternoon between campaign events in Iowa: What will it take to achieve a “secure border” and therefore address undocumented immigrants?
In response, Cruz deflected and attacked Democrats as soft on illegal immigration. Asked in a follow-up if he'd be willing to address the question of what to do about the undocumented population once all the security measures he has proposed—including a border wall, tripling the border patrol, and a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system—are in place, Cruz pivoted to insisting he’ll prioritize securing the border and stopping illegal immigration.
The Texan's challenge is that he’s boxed in: Any hint of support for normalizing the status of undocumented immigrants risks turning off the conservative voters he’s relying on, while mass deportation is widely viewed as impractical—and inhumane by some Republicans. Cruz's progressive critics say his demurrals are a red herring, that he's setting up obstacles that will never be met.
What Cruz preferred to discuss is his vote against comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, a bill despised by many conservatives, and that Rubio supported but has since backed away from. During the press conference in the town of Clinton, Cruz said his record and Rubio’s record are as different as “the arsonist and the fireman,” adding: “Marco Rubio led the fight standing shoulder to shoulder with Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama for a massive amnesty plan.”
Speaking to Bloomberg, Cruz made clear he would, as president, immediately end President Barack Obama’s 2012 program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to grant deportation relief and two-year work permits to roughly 650,000 young people brought to the country illegally as children. Cruz also said he’d end Obama’s 2014 actions to expand deportation relief.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has promised to protect and expand on both programs, a stance that is popular with Hispanic voters, who could decide a close election if it comes down to key swing states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.