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On one of the biggest issues in the 2016 Republican primary -- immigration -- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was nothing if not consistent during the second GOP presidential debate.
Cruz, angling to be the primary field’s most hard-line candidate against illegal immigration, said at the CNN Reagan Library debate, "A majority of the men and women on this stage have previously and publicly embraced amnesty. I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty."
That was similar to something he said at the first debate, held in Cleveland and aired by Fox News in August -- that "a majority of the candidates on this stage have supported amnesty. I have never supported amnesty." We checked that claim and gave it a rating of Mostly True.
The stages were similar for the two debates, with the addition of former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in the second debate. Does Cruz’s claim hold up?
As we noted in our previous fact-check, the tough part of checking this claim is that "amnesty" is a vague term. Some consider amnesty to be anything less than deporting all illegal immigrants, while others think of amnesty as letting immigrants stay with no punishment or additional requirements. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to a pathway to citizenship, but he’s been quiet on whether he would support some other legal status for illegal immigrants.
We’ve previously found that in modern politics, the standard for amnesty is the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, supported and signed by President Ronald Reagan. The law allowed illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents if they met certain standards, such as proving they had been in the country for several years and paying back taxes and a fine. After meeting other requirements, the legal permanent residents could apply for a green card and eventually make their way toward citizenship. The law was widely described as an amnesty program.
We do know Cruz considered the 2013 bipartisan Senate immigration proposal to be a form of amnesty and opposed the bill. The failed bill was similar to the Reagan law in that immigrants had to meet certain requirements before gaining legal status that put them on a path to citizenship, though the requirements are more stringent than the previous law. So we’ve used that bill as a rough standard for evaluating the positions of those who shared the debate stage with Cruz.
We’ll also note that since Cruz used the past tense -- "previously and publicly embraced amnesty" -- we’re only interested in whether the candidates have taken this position in the past, not whether they do now, or whether they have gone back and forth on the policy.
Three members of the debate field have expressed outright support for the Gang of Eight bill, so called after the bipartisan group of eight senators who proposed it in 2013.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., by Cruz’s standards, has been a clear supporter of amnesty, as he was a member of the Gang of Eight. At the time, he said the bill was "not amnesty," and we rated that claim Half True because of the vague nature of the term "amnesty." Since then, Rubio has softened his support for a path to citizenship and emphasized border security, but he still supports passing immigration legislation.
Fellow Floridian Jeb Bush, the former governor, said in March 2015 that he would put his support behind a Gang of Eight-style immigration bill that included a path to citizenship. Like Rubio, though, Bush insisted at the debate that his position is not amnesty, because his ideal plan requires illegal immigrants to meet certain requirements before gaining legal status.
Recently, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has avoided saying whether he would support a path to citizenship, though he has suggested he would not blanket deport all illegal immigrants. But in 2013, asked by Fox if he would side with Cruz or the Gang of Eight, Huckabee said he would choose the latter -- though he emphasized an eventual immigration bill had to emphasize border security. He has also previously endorsed a path to citizenship.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., did not support the Gang of Eight bill because he said it did not include strong enough provisions for ensuring reduced illegal immigration in the future. But in a March 2015 speech, Paul walked a fine line, supporting a path to some sort of normative legal status, though without using the word "citizenship."
For the remaining candidates, we could not find their opinions on the Gang of Eight bill specifically, but all four have at some point said they supported a path either to citizenship or legal status, even if their position has since changed.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker no longer supports a path to citizenship, but he said in 2013 that "it makes sense" people could not only stay in the United States but get citizenship after overcoming penalties, waiting periods and other requirements.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson has declined to comment on the Gang of Eight bill. He has said that the solution for illegal immigrants currently in the United States is for them to go back to their home country, where they can apply for a visa and return legally. In Carson’s 2012 book, America the Beautiful, he said a path to citizenship is a moral choice.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in 2014 and 2015 that he isn’t keen on a path to citizenship, but he’s open to the possibility -- especially because you can’t deport everyone who is already here, and it would help get lawmakers to a point of compromise on immigration legislation.
Despite his fiery rhetoric regarding Mexican immigrants, real estate mogul Donald Trump hasn’t said many specifics about what he’d do regarding the illegal immigrants already here. He has said this year that he would support a "merit-based" system for some illegal immigrants earning their right to stay, echoing comments he made in 2011.
Finally, the newcomer to the main debate stage -- Fiorina -- has also stated publicly that she is open to a path to legal status for at least some undocumented immigrants. In a June 2015 appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, she said, "I think legal status is a possibility for sure. I think their children maybe can become citizens."
Cruz said at the second Republican debate, "A majority of the men and women on this stage have previously and publicly embraced amnesty. I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty."
We’ll reiterate that many of these candidates have changed their position on what to do about undocumented immigrants already in the United States, and we’ll note once again that the definition of "amnesty" isn’t hard and fast. So what Cruz may consider amnesty might not be what any of these candidates considers to be amnesty.
Still, as far as we can tell, Cruz is the only one on the CNN debate stage who has never plainly supported something like a path to citizenship or some other form of legal status.
We rate Cruz’s claim Mostly True.
National Journal, "Here’s what all the Republican presidential contenders think about immigration," accessed Aug. 7, 2015
NPR, "A Reagan Legacy: Amnesty For Illegal Immigrants," July 4, 2010
CNN, "What is Trump's actual position on illegal immigration?" July 25, 2015
Politico Magazine, "The Real GOP Split on Immigration," Jan. 14, 2015
Politico, "Why I’m voting no on immigration reform," June 25, 2013
Columbus Dispatch, "Kasich’s immigration views ‘evolved,’ " Nov. 21, 2014
Fox News, interview with Christie, May 18, 2015
State of New Jersey, Transcript of Gov. Christie’s Interview with Jake Tapper on ABC, July 26, 2010
National Review, "Remove the Illegal-Immigration Carrots," June 18, 2014
Breitbart, "Ben Carson Won’t Comment on Senate Amnesty Bill," Nov. 23, 2014
New York Times, "G.O.P. Opposition to Immigration Law Is Falling Away," March 19, 2013
Washington Post, the Fix interview with Huckabee, May 23, 2006
Washington Post, "Immigration’s Gang of 8: Who are they?" Jan. 28, 2013
Buzzfeed, "Huckabee Openly Backs A Path To Citizenship – When He’s Not Running For President," July 28, 2015
Wall Street Journal, "Jeb Bush Says He Has a ‘Grown-Up’ Immigration Plan," March 13, 2015
Slate, "What Do Republicans Mean When They Say Amnesty?" Nov. 18, 2014
Time, "Cruz Walks a Careful Line on Immigration Reform," April 29, 2015
Washington Times, "Carly Fiorina is open to legal status for adult illegal immigrants, citizenship for their kids," June 15, 2015
PolitiFact, "Sen. Marco Rubio says immigration bill is not amnesty," April 17, 2013
PolitiFact, "Has Jeb Bush flip-flopped on immigration and a pathway to citizenship?" March 5, 2013
PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton says 'not one' GOP presidential contender backs path to citizenship," May 7, 2015
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker disavows support for path to citizenship," March 6, 2015
PolitiFact, "Ted Cruz: most GOP candidates 'have supported amnesty,' " Aug. 7, 2015
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