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Florida’s Marco Rubio, asked by a reporter if Texan Ted Cruz is perhaps more serious about stopping illegal immigration, shot back that the freshman senators competing for the Republican presidential nomination share common ground.
Rubio, who helped propel Senate approval of an immigration overhaul in 2013 that included a path to citizenship for immigrants already living here, replied at a South Carolina event Nov. 12, 2015: "Ted is a supporter of legalizing people who are in this country illegally."
That’s kind of a head-snapper. Among presidential hopefuls, Cruz holds himself out as tougher than the rest against giving ground to people living in the U.S. without legal authorization. In September 2015, PolitiFact rated Mostly True Cruz’s claim that he alone among 10 candidates (including Rubio) at the CNN Reagan Library debate never backed "amnesty" for immigrants. Research suggested he was the only one who had never plainly supported something like a path to citizenship or another form of legal status.
But Rubio suggested in South Carolina that when the Senate was debating its plan, Cruz was on board with giving immigrants legal status. "In fact, when the Senate bill was proposed," Rubio said, Cruz "proposed legalizing people that were here illegally. He proposed giving them work permits. He’s also supported a massive expansion of the green cards. He's supported a massive expansion of the H-1B program, a 500 percent increase. So, if you look at it, I don't think our positions are dramatically different."
Cruz has called for expanded legal immigration. In 2013, he unsuccessfully offered amendments to the Senate plan to quintuple H-1B visas, which are open to foreign workers with certain specialties, and to step up the number of green cards, which permit foreign nationals to live and work here permanently.
The Cuban American lawyer talks up similar goals on his campaign website where his immigration proposals are preceded by this poke at the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" immigration effort that was joined by Rubio in 2013: "When Establishment Republicans teamed up with Democrats to reward millions of illegal immigrants with amnesty," Cruz says, "I engaged millions of men and women across the country. Together, we defeated President Obama’s attempt to pass amnesty."
So, is Rubio right that Cruz supports giving a legal status to people living here illegally — and even proposed work permits for them?
Rubio camp cites Cruz’s comments at hearing
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant, asked to explain how Rubio reached his conclusions, told us Cruz’s comments during the 2013 discussion about the immigration bill show he favors giving illegal immigrants living here some kind of legal status. By email, Rubio’s camp said an amendment offered by Cruz during the 2013 Senate deliberations demonstrates Rubio’s point.
Ultimately, that’s not how we interpreted Cruz’s actions and statements during the 2013 debate that involved the Senate advancing an immigration plan that died without action in the House.
Cruz’s actions, comments in 2013 Senate deliberations
Let’s walk through what Cruz proposed, what he said about his proposal and whether he has otherwise embraced a legal status for immigrants living here without legal authorization.
On May 21, 2013, Cruz issued a press release saying that he’d offered amendments to the Senate measure that day to "ensure that illegal immigrants are not given a path to citizenship, and modernize, streamline and expand legal immigration by reforming the green card program."
In the release, Cruz’s office provided video of Cruz talking about his amendments during that day’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Per his unsuccessful proposal to remove the plan’s "path to citizenship" provisions, Cruz said at the hearing that in his view, for immigration reform to credibly fix "the problem," border security should be toughened, legal immigration should be elevated, and "there should not be a pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally."
Cruz further said that if the path to citizenship were eliminated from the Senate plan, as he proposed, some 11 million residents living "in the shadows" would "still be eligible for RPI status." The Senate plan ultimately provided that immigrants in the country without legal authorization could apply for an envisioned Registered Provisional Immigrant program, which would result in a work permit also enabling a successful applicant to travel outside the U.S. and return. A person with RPI status for 10 years would be eligible to apply for permanent residency, as in a green card.
Cruz continued: "They would still be eligible for legal status and indeed, under the terms of the bill, they would be eligible for" green card "status as well so that they are out of the shadows, which the proponents of this bill repeatedly point to as their principal objective, to provide a legal status for those who are here illegally to be out of the shadows," Cruz said.
Other Cruz comments
According to a Bloomberg News story posted the day after Rubio commented on Cruz in South Carolina, the Texan said he laughed on hearing the "false" idea that he supports giving work permits to people living here without legal permission.
On the other hand, Rubio's campaign pointed out news stories that it described as demonstrating Cruz was amenable to giving immigrants legal status.
In June 2013, Cruz told NPR News that if senators embraced his proposal stripping out the path to citizenship option, the "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."
Later, Cruz was described in September 2013 by the Texas Tribune as supportive of giving immigrants living here legal status--though not a way to citizenship. The story said:
Asked about what to do with the people here illegally, however, he (Cruz) stressed that he had never tried to undo the goal of allowing them to stay.
"The amendment that I introduced removed the path to citizenship, but it did not change the underlying work permit from the Gang of Eight," he said during a recent visit to El Paso.
By phone, Brian Phillips, a Cruz campaign spokesman, told us that each example of Cruz mentioning work permits in the Senate plan amounted to Cruz simply explaining what would remain in the Senate plan if the path to citizenship element were yanked--and, Phillips said, Cruz never said he would vote for the plan, regardless.
Separately, Mark Krikorian, who advocated against the 2013 bill, told Bloomberg News that Cruz’s amendment to remove the path to citizenship element was a legislative tactic. "You often introduce measures you hope will be poison pills if you're trying to kill a piece of legislation," said Krikorian who works for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that focuses on lessening immigration.
We asked Chris Chmielenski of NumbersUSA, an advocacy group that promotes reduced immigration, about Rubio’s claim. Chmielenski, who closely monitored the Senate during the immigration debate, said by email he doesn’t think Cruz "was ever willing to support legalization" of immigrants living here "before enforcement" of border security. "That's a different position from Rubio," Chmielenski said. By phone, Chmielenski said that there also was no Cruz amendment proposing to give work permits to people living here without legal authorization.
Rubio said Cruz "is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally" and "proposed giving them work permits."
To the contrary, we found no sign of Cruz proposing to give work permits to immigrants living here without legal permission and no record of Cruz explicitly saying he favored giving such residents legal status.
We rate this statement False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Truth-O-Meter article, "Ted Cruz: Most GOP candidates 'publicly embraced amnesty,'" PolitiFact, Sept. 16, 2015
Press releases, "Sen. Cruz Presents Amendments to Immigration Reform Bill," May 21, 2013; "Sen. Cruz Files Additional Amendments to Immigration Legislation," June 19, 201
Telephone interview and emails, Alex Conant, communications director, Marco Rubio presidential campaign, Nov. 16-17, 2015
Press release, "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz Statement on Immigration Reform Proposal," Jan. 28, 2013
Video of Sen. Ted. Cruz, Video on amendment, May 21, 2013
Web page, "FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT The Senate Immigration Reform Bill," National Immigration Law Center, July 2013
News story, "Did Ted Cruz actually support legal status for undocumented immigrants?," Bloomberg, Nov. 13, 2015
News story, "How Ted Cruz’s father shaped his views on immigration," NPR News, June 20, 2013
News story, " On Immigration, Cruz Aims for Middle Ground," Texas Tribune, Sept. 13, 2013
Telephone interview, Brian Phillips, director of rapid response, Ted Cruz presidential campaign, Nov. 16, 2015
Email and telephone interview, Chris Chmielenski, Chris Chmielenski, director, Content & Activism, NumbersUSA, Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 17, 2015
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