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5 things to know about the fight between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on immigration

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 6, 2016

Marco Rubio insists he and Ted Cruz have the same position on securing the border before even thinking about changing the legal status of millions of illegal immigrants already here.

Cruz says that's revisionist balderdash: Rubio championed the bipartisan path-to-citizenship plan in 2013, which Cruz adamantly opposed.

Neither one tells the full story.

Their fight escalated during a recent GOP debate, when Rubio asked Cruz to explain if he supports legal status for illegal immigrants.

"I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization," Cruz said Dec. 15.

Confused about where Rubio and Cruz stand on immigration? Here are five questions and answers to clear up the fight.

What were their positions on the Senate immigration bill in 2013?

Rubio helped write and voted for the Senate-approved immigration plan in 2013. Cruz opposed and voted against it.

The bill required more border security first. Then, unauthorized immigrants could pursue legal status if they could pass hurdles including fines, background checks and waiting periods. Applicants would receive "registered provisional immigrant status," and after 10 years, they could seek a green card given to lawful permanent residents.

Overall, Cruz was a vocal critic of the bill. Cruz said he liked parts of the proposal such as increasing border security. "However, I have deep concerns with the proposed path to citizenship," he wrote in a statement Jan. 28, 2013. "To allow those who came here illegally to be placed on such a path is both inconsistent with rule of law and profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who waited years, if not decades, to come to America legally."

Cruz continued to criticize the bill after it passed the Senate on June 27, 2013. In the House, Republican leaders refused to bring it up for a vote, killing its prospects.

Did Cruz propose an amendment to the 2013 bill to allow legal status?

A key dispute between Rubio and Cruz is the meaning behind one of the handful of amendments Cruz proposed in 2013. One of them said that illegal immigrants would not be eligible for United States citizenship, even if they were allowed to stay in the country under the terms of the bill.

Pointing to that amendment, Rubio has argued that Cruz supports "legalizing people who are in this country illegally."

Rubio has also pointed to remarks Cruz made explaining the amendment to NPR in June 2013. If the Senate accepted his amendment, Cruz said, "11 million who are here illegally would be granted legal status once the border was secured — not before — but after the border was secured, they would be granted legal status. And indeed, they would be eligible for permanent legal residency. But they would not be eligible for citizenship."

Spokespersons for Cruz have argued that was a "poison pill" legislative tactic intended to defeat the bill. Some immigration experts back up that point of view.

Proving Cruz’s intentions in 2013 is tricky -- and it’s something our colleagues at and The Fact Checker have previously explored.

We asked Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler if he had any evidence that it was a poison pill. "Nobody runs around the Senate saying, ‘I’m going to introduce a poison pill,’ " Tyler told PolitiFact.

It’s possible Cruz’s comments to NPR were trying to stake out a future moderate position in the midst of a political fight. But overall, Cruz’s opposition to the 2013 immigration bill looks pretty consistent.

Has Rubio’s position on path to legal status changed since 2013?

In January 2015, Rubio released a book, American Dreams, in which he wrote that comprehensive immigration reform was no longer possible. Instead, Rubio said he would advocate for a piecemeal approach requiring more border security and fixes to the legal immigration system before addressing a path to citizenship.

Rubio has called for spending about $4 billion to beef up enforcement including more border patrol agents, a finished fence along the southern border, a mandatory E-Verify system for employers, and a system to track visa overstays.

Illegal immigrants here longer than 12 years who could pass a background check would then pay a fine, pay taxes and get a work permit for a decade.

"After that decade has expired, I personally am open to allowing them to apply for a green card, like anybody else would," Rubio said on Fox News Dec. 22. "That is not a majority position in my party, so it may not be possible to do that."

Advocates for changing immigration laws such as Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, argue that Rubio’s current plan would take too long.

"Many of those hoping for a Rubio path to citizenship will be elderly or dead before they’d become eligible for it," he said.

Will Cruz deport all illegal immigrants?

The answer here is unclear, although Cruz seems to think mass deportations could happen over time simply by enforcing current laws.

His campaign plan, released in November, calls for "fully enforcing the law, including through deportations and returns." His plan would deport all illegal immigrants who commit crimes, hold all apprehended until they appear in court and invest more in border security.

When asked for more detail, the Cruz campaign pointed to Cruz’s interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Dec. 18.

Van Susteren repeatedly asked Cruz what would he do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here and whether he would round them all up.

"OK, so you're not going to send out a force to go out and arrest these people. Or are you?" Van Susteren asked.

Cruz replied: "We will use our existing border patrol and customs enforcement to enforce the law. Look, I represent Texas --"

Cruz never bluntly answered her questions about how he would deport up to 12 million so we asked his campaign for clarification.

"Anyone who is here illegally encounters the law, they will be deported," Tyler said. "No one is going to go out and find, round up people. I don’t know anybody that is advocating that."

While in Iowa Jan. 4, a man asked Cruz if like Donald Trump he believed all undocumented immigrants should be deported.

Cruz again emphasized enforcement: "Absolutely yes. We should enforce the law. And in fact, look, there’s a difference. He’s advocated allowing folks to come back in and become citizens. I oppose that."

What are Cruz and Rubio’s positions on Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?

Neither candidate agrees with Obama’s policy. Cruz seems more opposed than Rubio, however.

Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 to grant temporary status to immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, commonly called Dreamers. (The DREAM Act is similar legislation that Congress refused to approve.)

When it was unveiled, Rubio said he disagreed with the process Obama used (although he had been working on a similar proposal ).

In July 2014, when child migrants were pouring into the country, Rubio said he opposed expanding DACA to recent arrivals. However, he expressed support for maintaining Dreamers’ status temporarily.

"Eventually that program has to end. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States," he said in February 2015. "What I'm not advocating is that we cancel it right now at this moment, because you already have people that have signed up for it. They're working, they're going to school. It would be deeply disruptive. But at some point, it has to come to an end. It can't be the permanent policy. And my hope is that it would come to an end because it's replaced by a permanent solution like the one I've outlined through the three-step process."

Recently, Rubio has said even if Congress doesn’t pass a law DACA must end.

"DACA is going to end and the ideal way for it to end is that it's replaced by a reform system that creates an alternative," Rubio said while in Manchester, N.H in November. "But if it doesn't, it will end. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States."

Cruz opposed DACA in 2012 and stepped up calls to get rid of it in 2014. Cruz’s presidential immigration plan doesn’t specifically name DACA. However, he calls for ending "Obama’s illegal amnesty."

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Our Sources

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Statement on Immigration Reform Proposal, Jan. 28, 2013

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, "Sen. Cruz Presents Amendments to Immigration Reform Bill," May 21, 2013

NPR, "How Ted Cruz's Father Shaped His Views On Immigration," June 20, 2013

Latino Fox News, "What does Ted Cruz’s Victory Mean for Texas Latinos?" Aug. 1, 2012

Huffington Post, "Ted Cruz: End deportation relief by ‘any and all means necessary,’" Sept. 9, 2014

Fox News, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio interview, Dec. 22, 2015

Fox News, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz interview, Dec. 18, 2015

Buzzfeed, "Ted Cruz: Trump Will Let Deported Immigrants Back In, I Won’t," Jan. 5, 2015

National Review, "Rubio remains a supporter of path to citizenship," June 30, 2015

Miami Herald, "Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio tread carefully on immigration reform," April 16, 2015

Washington Post, "Ted Cruz’s eye-catching new immigration ad," Jan. 5, 2015

Washington Post, "Rubio’s past support for immigration reform haunts him on campaign trail," Dec. 26, 2015

Numbers USA, 2016 presidential hopefuls Worker protection immigration scorecards, Dec. 21, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Sen. Marco Rubio wants to 'wind down' program for immigrant youth," July 24, 2014

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz campaign, Immigration plan, 2016

Time Magazine, "Ted Cruz Won’t Rule Out Legalization for 11 Million in U.S. Illegally," Nov. 20, 2015

MSNBC, "Ted Cruz refocuses talk of shooting to ‘vicious rhetoric on the left,’" Nov. 29, 2015

Bloomberg News, "Did Ted Cruz Actually Support Legal Status for Undocumented Immigrants?" Nov. 13, 2015

CNN, "Ted Cruz closes door on legal status for undocumented immigrants," Dec. 16, 2015

Washington Post, "Ted Cruz finally says what he’d do about undocumented immigrants," Dec. 16, 2015, "Did Cruz support legalization?" Dec. 16, 2015

The Fact Checker, "Ted Cruz’s claim that he has ‘never supported legalization’ of undocumented immigrants," Dec. 18, 2015

PolitiFact Texas, "Marco Rubio says Ted Cruz supports legal status and work permits for 'illegal' immigrants,"Nov. 18, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "PAC supporting Ted Cruz says when Marco Rubio tried to 'push amnesty,' Cruz stopped him,"Nov. 13, 2015

PolitiFact, "Marco Rubio wrongly says Ted Cruz supports 'legalizing people who are in this country illegally,'" Dec. 16, 2015

Interview, Frank Sharry, America’s Voice executive director, Dec. 31, 2015

Interview, Rick Tyler, Ted Cruz campaign spokesman Dec. 30, 2015

Interview, Brian Phillips, Ted Cruz campaign spokesman, Dec. 30, 2015


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