In a televised debate July 23, 2012, the Texas GOP candidates for U.S. Senate sought to bolster their conservative credentials before the July 31 primary runoff election.
"Amnesty" is a dirty word in this context, and Ted Cruz tacked his opponent’s name right onto it.
"The Dewhurst amnesty," Cruz claimed, "would take every single illegal alien in the United States and give them a guest worker permit." His source for that, he said, was a 2007 speech by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst "where he explicitly advocated a guest worker program for every single illegal alien in the United States today" -- more than 11 million people, by the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2010 estimate, though of course not all would be adults qualified for a guest-worker program.
Is that what Dewhurst said?
Lauren Thurston, a spokeswoman in Dewhurst’s state office, emailed us a copy of the February 17, 2007, speech given when Dewhurst was named "Mr. South Texas," an annual honor bestowed by a Laredo civic group.
The speech’s reference to guest workers is this:
"I support secure borders both north and south and I support a guest worker program for those here today illegally. Labor and skilled workers are critical to our Texas economy."
Thurston didn’t address our request for more information about the program Dewhurst said he supported. Dewhurst campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch told us by email that Dewhurst was not referring to any specific program and has consistently opposed "any amnesty."
Dewhurst faced questions about his 2007 speech in a July 24, 2012, interview by Andrea Watkins of Houston’s KRIV-TV, which aired the debate; his campaign posted video of the interview online.
Andrea Watkins: Did you support a guest worker program in that speech?
David Dewhurst: In the speech, then and now is my same position. There’s no room for any discussion on doing anything until we secure the border. ...
Once the border is secure, would you still support a guest worker program, as you were saying in that speech?
I would want to look at all of our options and see what is available. … What I was really focused on is that we need a sensible legal immigration policy. That’s what I’m after.
Mr. Cruz thinks, though, that a guest worker program that you were supporting is even more broad than the amnesty … the new policy that president Obama has adopted … President Obama would allow about eight hundred thousand people in the United States to stay, and your guest worker program would be for everyone who is in the United States illegally.
First of all, it’s not my guest worker program. I wasn’t recommending any specific changes to our immigration policy, just that once we secure our borders -- and the federal government has not done a good job -- then Congress, I believe, needs to take up the issue and look at … how we try and identify those people that are here, that are national security risks to the United States. … Again, I’ve always been categorically opposed to amnesty, which is a pathway to citizenship for those who live here right now.
PolitiFact researchers often explore different uses of the word "amnesty" in connection with illegal immigrants, recently reaching a definition similar to Dewhurst’s "pathway to citizenship" in a June 20, 2012, fact-check. Generally, amnesty consists of giving a group of lawbreakers a permanent guarantee that they won’t be punished for their offense. In immigration debates, we wrote, it is most accurate when applied to policies that give illegal immigrants a way to achieve permanent legal status.
So: A pathway, without punishment. Permanently.
We searched the Nexis newspaper archive for instances of Dewhurst otherwise declaring his views on guest worker programs and found one mention. An April 25, 2007, Houston Chronicle news story says Dewhurst told the paper in an interview that he "has long urged Congress to enact a guest worker program for immigrants." The story does not quote Dewhurst in any way about securing the border.
We did find, though, stories and opinion pieces mentioning prominent Texas Republicans’ support in 2006 and 2007 for immigration reforms urged by President George W. Bush that included a guest-worker program. Congress failed to reach agreement on such a plan in September 2006.
A McClatchy News Service news story June 2, 2007, said that different forms of the guest worker program had specified a maximum number of participants that ranged from 200,000 to 600,000 per year.
We also note that in May 2012, Dewhurst accused Cruz of supporting amnesty. Dewhurst got a Pants on Fire rating from us June 1, 2012, for his radio ad claiming his opponent helped steer two groups that led the national push for amnesty. Cruz was on the board of one group Dewhurst named -- the Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute -- and that group wasn’t even close to leading the drive for comprehensive immigration reform (possibly to include a limited path to legal residency).
Dewhurst’s 2007 speech advocates a guest-worker program for "those here today illegally," a view he seems to have aired again in an interview a couple months later and one that he also has not forsworn, far as we can tell.
So, it can fairly be said Dewhurst advocated a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants already here.
Would every single illegal immigrant be in the program, as Cruz says? As a practical matter, probably not, but Dewhurst’s speech laid out no limits.
His speech did, however, cite the need for border security, and of late, Dewhurst has said secure borders should be ensured before a guest-worker program is implemented. This significant clarification isn’t acknowledged in Cruz’s claim, which we rate Mostly True.