Ted Cruz’s Mixed Record on Immigration Reform

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both impressed audiences in the last debate. Senator Rubio’s positions on immigration are discussed frequently, but Senator Cruz is normally viewed as an immigration restrictionist – an unfair characterization. It’s more important to look at Senator Cruz’s actions when he offered amendments to the 2013 “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) than it is to cherry-pick a few quotes. Senator Cruz did end up voting against S. 744, but only after he offered many amendments.

Senator Ted Cruz was a tremendous supporter of skilled immigration and supported massively expanding the size of those programs, even beyond what was proposed in S. 744. He offered four amendments (1324, 1326, 1586, 1587), to expand the number of employment based green cards to over a million annually. Senator Cruz offered two amendments (1325 and 1585) to increase the number of H-1B visas issued annually to 325,000 while S. 744 allowed an upward bound of 180,000 annually (with some upward adjustments possible). In other words, Senator Cruz’s amendment intended to practically double the number of H-1B visas over that which was proposed in the Senate’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill. Amendment 1587 also increased the number of H-1B visas and employment based green cards. Senator Cruz’s amendments would have also allowed the spouses of all H-1B visa holders to work legally – going beyond President Obama’s actions to increase work eligibly for those spouses. Expanding the number of green cards and H-1B visas for skilled workers would have been a tremendous boost to the U.S. economy.

Senator Cruz also introduced two amendments (1322 and 1583) to guarantee that immigrants legalized under S. 744 could never naturalize. Importantly, he did not attempt to bar their ability to legalize their status, he just attempted to block their ability to naturalize – a position similar to that taken by Jeb Bush in his 2013 book Immigration Wars. Senator Cruz’s staff has claimed that these actions were intended as poison pills to kill S. 744. If they were poison pills, why did Senator Cruz seek to massively expand the highly skilled immigration system too?

Senator Cruz introduced six amendments (1482, 1584, 1582, 1580, 1323, 1321) to permanently restrict any legalized immigrant who had unlawful status, at any time, from accessing means tested welfare benefits or Obamacare benefits. He introduced as many amendments to bar their access to welfare and Obamacare as he did to increase the number of highly skilled immigrants. He also introduced two amendments to limit Obamacare funding until the unlawful immigrants have all left registered provisional immigrant status (1580 and 1482).

He introduced two amendments (1581 and 1295) to guarantee that states have the power to require proof of citizenship before letting an individual vote.

Lastly, Senator Cruz introduced two amendments (1320 and 1579) to create border security benchmarks that must be met before unlawful immigrants can begin to legalize. Included are punishments for government employees who do not meet their requirements and mandates for how border security resources are allocated.

Senator Cruz’s amendments support increasing skilled immigration, restricting welfare access to legalized immigrants who used to be unlawful, allowing for the legalization of unlawful immigrants but blocking their path to citizenship, guaranteeing that states can still check for proof of citizenship before allowing people to vote, and creating border security benchmarks that trigger the legalization program once they are met. His record on immigration is mixed, but he is far from a restrictionist. Click here to view a chart of the amendments Senator Cruz introduced, a brief summary of them, and link to the text.

Originally published on the Cato Institute's blog.

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