Presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures towards rivals Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz during the sixth Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston, S.C., Jan. 14, 2016.
Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

The Rubio-Cruz immigration war heats up


The immigration war between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio is now officially in full force.

Portions of the sixth Republican presidential debate on Thursday at times devolved into a lightning round of accusations as both candidates tried to cast the other as a major flip-flopper on immigration.

“Ted Cruz, you used to say you supported doubling the number of green cards, now you say you’re against it. You used to support 500% increase in the number of guest workers, now against it. You used to support legalizing people here illegally. Now against it. You used to say you were in favor of birthright citizenship. Now you are against it,” Rubio fired off.

“That is not consistent conservatism. That is political calculation,” he added.

It’s a complicated wrangling over immigration — between two sons of immigrants, no less — that has been boiling for more than a month. 

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Indeed, ever since Donald Trump blew up the race and started dragging the party to the right on immigration, Cruz’s position has slowly become more hard-line. The Texas senator made a major reversal in November by proposing restrictions to H1B visa admissions when, just month earlier, he had proposed a massive expansion to the program. 

But the mudslinging gets murky when getting down to the details of their record on the issue, and where exactly each candidate stands now on even legal immigration — let alone what they plan to do with the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Behind the sixth Republican debate with photographer Mark Peterson
Photographer Mark Peterson provides a behind-the-scenes look at the sixth Republican presidential debate.

Rubio faced the brunt of the fire this week. A pair of super PAC ads, one supporting Cruz and another supporting Jeb Bush, ripped Rubio’s record this week. The searing TV spots assailed Rubio as a key architect in the failed 2013 immigration reform legislation and cast him as cozy with President Obama and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer.

During Thursday’s debate, Cruz kept up the heat on Rubio, jumping in at the chance to rake through the coals Rubio’s record as a member of the Gang of Eight pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

“It is also the case that that Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill, it expanded Barack Obama’s power to let in Syrian refugees, enabled the president to certify them en masse without mandating meaningful background checks,” Cruz said. “I think that’s a mistake. “

Rubio said for his part that much has changed since his days on the Senate’s Gang of Eight. But for a candidate who has maintained his support of a green card process for immigrants to become citizens, the Florida senator came dangerously close on Thursday to shutting that option off.

“Whether it’s green cards or any other form of entry into America, when I’m president, if we do not know who you are or why you are coming, you are not going to get into the United States of America,” Rubio said.