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Byron York: Ted Cruz opens up on immigration

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Politics,Byron York,Politics Digest,Immigration,Ted Cruz

What, exactly, is Ted Cruz’s position on comprehensive immigration reform? There’s no doubt the outspoken and still very new Texas senator opposes the Gang of Eight proposal. From that, some Democrats and commentators on the left have concluded that Cruz is determined to block any far-reaching immigration measure. “Cruz seems categorically opposed to anything that smacks of comprehensive reform,” declared one liberal analyst recently.

Cruz doesn’t see it that way. Last weekend, his office got in touch, saying the senator would like to discuss his views on immigration reform. “His critique of the [Gang of Eight] bill and his amendments to restructure it offer a compelling contrary vision that we believe makes more sense and is more in line with the country,” wrote an aide.

Cruz called on Tuesday as he traveled in Texas during the Memorial Day break. He began by criticizing the way Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee joined with the two Republican members of the Gang of Eight “in lockstep” to “reject virtually every substantive amendment that would have fixed the real problems in this immigration proposal.” Their tactics, Cruz argued, would likely succeed in pushing the bill through the Senate but would ultimately doom it in the House of Representatives. “That approach is not an approach designed to pass a bill,” Cruz said.

As Cruz explained it, the five amendments he offered — all five were shot down by the Democrat/Gang of Eight bloc — would have salvaged key parts of the bill.

The first was border security, which Cruz said the current bill “leaves to the subjective, amorphous discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.” Cruz offered an amendment that would have created a three-year period, during which security would be increased, before the estimated 11 million currently-illegal immigrants could apply for legal status. Cruz’s amendment was probably too programmatic — it stipulated, for example, that the number of Border Patrol agents be tripled and the amount of equipment at their disposal be quadrupled — and would have been vulnerable to charges that it was dictating from Washington the tactics better left to authorities on the border. Nevertheless, it would have fixed one of the Gang of Eight bill’s greatest vulnerabilities, which is its legalization-first, security-later approach. The amendment was defeated.

Two other Cruz amendments would have increased the number of high-skilled temporary workers and the number of total immigrants allowed into this country legally each year. “I am an unapologetic advocate of legal immigration,” Cruz told me, but his suggestions to change the mix of immigrants arriving in the U.S. were shot down by Democrats, plus the Gang of Eight Republicans. “Why?” asked Cruz. “It was a deal that they cut with the union bosses.”

Cruz’s final two amendments dealt with the 11 million who are in the country illegally. The first stated flatly that “no person who has previously been willfully present in the United States while not in lawful status shall be eligible for United States citizenship.” In one sentence, Cruz would take the path to citizenship out of immigration reform. “In my view, the path to citizenship is the most divisive element of the current bill,” Cruz told me. “It is designed by the White House to be a poison pill, to cause the bill to be voted down in the House of Representatives.”

“Sen. Schumer was very candid,” Cruz added, recalling the Judiciary Committee meetings. “He said if there is no path to citizenship, there can be no reform. I certainly commend his candor. That is the political, partisan objective from his end.” Cruz’s amendment was defeated.

The final amendment said that “aliens who have entered or remained present in the United States while not in lawful status shall not be eligible for means-tested benefits.” “I think integral to remaining a nation that doesn’t just welcome but celebrates legal immigrants is ensuring that those who come here are coming because they want to work towards the American dream and provide for their families and not be dependent on means-tested welfare,” Cruz told me. “I believe that the overwhelming majority of immigrants, that’s why they come to this country, just like my father came to this country 55 years ago.” Democrats and the two Republicans on the Gang of Eight did not agree; the amendment was voted down.

So Cruz’s amendments were designed to 1) eliminate the legalization-first, security-later structure of the Gang of Eight bill while still creating a way to legalize those now here illegally; 2) increase certain types of legal immigration; and 3) remove what might be called the moral hazard of rewarding those who came here illegally with citizenship and federal benefits. “In introducing amendments, what I endeavored to do was improve that bill so that it actually fixes the problem,” Cruz told me. “I think an overwhelming majority of Americans in both parties wants to see our broken immigration system fixed, wants to see the problem solved, the border secured, and our remaining a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants. Given that bipartisan agreement outside of Washington, my objective was not to kill immigration reform but to amend the Gang of Eight bill so that it actually solves the problem rather than making the problem worse.”

Each of Cruz’s amendments was entirely defensible, but also entirely impossible in today’s climate. The Gang of Eight bill is a painstakingly-crafted proposal which Democrats would abandon immediately if any of Cruz’s ideas were incorporated in it. Schumer and his allies have a long list of deal-killers, and it includes every single one of Ted Cruz’s ideas.

But what if Cruz had somehow magically gotten his way? What if his amendments were all approved, and no other changes were made that made the bill unacceptable? If that happened, would Cruz vote for comprehensive immigration reform?

That was the question I stupidly failed to ask at the end of our conversation. Kicking myself, I sent a note to a Cruz aide a short time later, asking that he check with the senator. After consulting with Cruz, the aide sent this response: “It’s hypothetical, because the Gang of Eight members have made clear they will not substantively amend the bill in order to preserve its ‘delicate balance.’ The senator’s concerns with the current bill remain, and he’ll continue to try to improve it so it secures the border, improves legal immigration, and upholds the rule of law.”

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