Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has a more aggressive stance on illegal immigration than the majority of his 2016 primary competitors, Cruz said at a primetime Republican debate Aug. 6.
"A majority of the candidates on this stage have supported amnesty," he said. "I have never supported amnesty, and I led the fight against Chuck Schumer’s gang of eight amnesty legislation in the Senate." (Schumer is U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.)
Of the 10 candidates on the stage, how many of them have supported "amnesty" for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States?
The tough part about this fact-check 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. We asked Cruz’s campaign staff how he would define "amnesty," but they didn’t answer that question. Cruz himself 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’ll use that bill as a rough standard for evaluating the positions of those who shared the debate stage with Cruz.
Three debaters 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 or not 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.
We could find only one of the candidates at the Aug. 6 debate (other than Cruz) who said he did not support this bill specifically. 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 less 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, but he did not use the word "citizenship."
For the remaining four candidates, we could not find their opinions on the Gang of Eight bill specifically, but all four have at some point supported a path to citizenship or legal status, even if their position has since changed.
While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker no longer supports a path to citizenship, 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.
Many of these candidates have changed their position on what to do about the illegal immigrants already in the United States. But as far as we can tell, Cruz is the only one who has never plainly supported something like a path to citizenship or some other form of legal status. Six have expressed outright support for a path to citizenship at some point in their recent political careers.
It is worth noting again, however, 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.
Cruz said at a Republican debate, "A majority of the candidates on this stage have supported amnesty," adding, "I have never supported amnesty."
All of the candidates at the debate, with Cruz as the exception, have at some point in their recent political careers expressed support for a pathway to citizenship or other legal status for illegal immigrants currently in the United States, somewhat like was proposed in the Gang of Eight bill. Because there is no hard and fast definition for "amnesty," some would argue that this does not necessarily count. However, it is reminiscent of 1986 legislation that was widely considered amnesty. By Cruz’s standards, any path to citizenship is amnesty.
We rate Cruz’s claim Mostly True.