Ted Cruz’s Inhumane Immigration Position

Cruz hasn’t had to chase Donald Trump to the right, because he’s already there.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in Reno, Nevada on Febr. 22, 2016, the night before the Nevada GOP caucus.

David Calvert/Getty Images

A narrative emerged on Tuesday that Ted Cruz changed his position on immigration enforcement to an even harsher one basically overnight. Even a cursory examination of what he actually said, though, shows that this is not really the case.

In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Monday, Cruz was asked if he, like Donald Trump, would “round up 12 million illegal aliens here, and if so how?”

“Listen, we should enforce the law,” he responded. “How do we enforce the law? Yes, we should enforce them. We should build a wall, we should triple the Border Patrol. And federal law requires that anyone here illegally that’s apprehended should be deported.”

“But would you look for them, though?” O’Reilly pressed. “Mr. Trump would look for them to get them out. Would you do that if you were president?”

“Bill, of course you would. That’s what [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] exists for,” he said. “We have law enforcement that looks for people who are violating the laws, that apprehends them and deports them.”

It’s not clear when Cruz ever in the past denied that ICE, under his administration, would not seek to find undocumented immigrants and deport them. All he’s ever said is that he won’t go about doing so in a blanketed, “door-to-door” manner, which is a different question than the one he was asked last night.

Several pieces Tuesday are characterizing this as a shift in position from one laid out in a January interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, in which the anchor asked specifically whether Cruz would go “door-to-door,” rounding people up. “No, I don’t intend to send jackboots to knock on your door and every door in America. That’s not how we enforce the law for any crime,” Cruz said. “We don’t have any system that knocks on the doors of every person in America … We also don’t have people going door-to-door looking for murderers. We don’t live in a police state. We do have law enforcement.”

All Cruz was saying in that interview is that Tapper’s line of questioning about how to go about deporting people—and how Trump has supposedly supported doing so—was stupid. Law enforcement isn’t conducted by going “door-to-door” looking for offenders without cause because that’s both constitutionally dicey and extremely inefficient. Cruz was not denying that under his presidency, undocumented immigrants would be apprehended in their homes if they’ve been ordered for deportation.

In his interviews with both O’Reilly and Tapper, Cruz went on quite similarly about how he would target undocumented immigrants for deportation. He spoke about fully implementing a biometric entry-exit system that would allow the government to know when immigrants have overstayed their visas and enforce deportations from there. O’Reilly seems to believe that it’s not legal to go to the home of an undocumented immigrant who’s been ordered to leave and detain them for deportation. Has he not been following the news? ICE raids are very much a thing, and the Obama administration, despite its deprioritization of deporting certain undocumented immigrants, is still fond of them.

Would Cruz’s administration go to the homes of people who are ordered to be deported and apprehend them? Yes. Would he go “door-to-door” asking every random person for their papers? No. Does this mean that he would have a very difficult time deporting all 12 million undocumented immigrants already here? Yes.

Cruz’s position is not, by the way, more “humane” than Trump’s on the whole. Cruz, as he is quick to emphasize in these interviews, is to the right of Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio on immigration, since theoretically, Cruz would not allow a single undocumented immigrant in the country to ever gain legal status. Rubio refuses to rule out a path to either citizenship or legal status for undocumented immigrants already here once the border has been secured; Trump speaks about letting some of “the good ones” back in after they’ve first been deported. Only in Cruz’s case is there no possibility of light at the end of the tunnel.

Read more Slate coverage of the GOP primary.