Cruz outflanks Trump on immigration

Watch Ted Cruz position himself to the right of Donald Trump on immigration:

Here’s the transcript of the relevant exchange, from Buzzfeed:

Ted Cruz, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Ted Cruz, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

QUESTIONER: Both you and Donald Trump are really strong on immigration, but he supports deporting all the illegal immigrants. Are you willing to say the same?

TED CRUZ: Absolutely, yes. We should enforce the law.

Q: All?

T.C.: We should enforce the law.

Q: Ok.

T.C.: And in fact, look, there’s a difference. He’s advocated allowing folks to come back in and become citizens. I oppose that.

Q: So no citizens and all of them?

T.C.: So, if you read I have a very detailed 11-page immigration proposal that’s on my website it’s It was designed with Steve King and Jeff Sessions were the two who sat down with me to prepare it and it is enforce the law across the board.

Trump’s mass deportation plan, which he has likened to Dwight Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” (not making that name up), involves rounding up undocumented immigrants and their family members — including US-born citizens — and then allowing them to apply for the opportunity to come back through the big, beautiful door that Trump has promised to put in his big, beautiful wall. You know, the one that Mexico is going to pay for.

This immigration platform is as cruel as it is unworkable, and has been held up throughout the campaign for the Republican nomination as the gold standard for anti-Latino policy proposals. However, Trump has responded to the criticism that his plan is racist and cruel by pointing out that giving “people who are really good and outstanding and have had outstanding records” the opportunity to reenter the United State legally — after they’ve been forcibly removed, of course. In short, Trump claims that his plan isn’t actually so harsh because at least he gives immigrants the chance to come back.

That part of Trump’s plan isn’t new. The policy is called “touchback,” and it was first proposed in 2007 by former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R – TX). At the time, immigration hardliners hated the proposal, describing it as basically no different from amnesty. Now, Ted Cruz is betting that he can make a similar argument and use the touchback provision in Trump’s plan to frame him as an immigration squish. He might not be wrong.

Should Cruz win the Republican nomination, this (among many other things) will put him in deep trouble with many of the voters he needs in order to win swing states with large Latino populations like Florida and Colorado. After all, he’s committed himself to all of the harshest parts of Trump’s plan while discarding the one element Trump has held up as proof that it’s anything more than anti-Latino racism. As The New Republic’s Jeet Heer pointed out today, “To deport 11 million people and give them no way to return to the country they once lived in would amount to one of the biggest forced migrations in human history.”

But in planting his flag as far to the right as he has, Cruz will force Trump to either explain why touchback is a good idea and run the risk of alienating his rabidly anti-Latino core voters, or come up with an even more insane policy proposal to reclaim the mantle of being the most hawkish of the immigration hawks.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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