The Corner

Immigration: Where Republican Candidates Stand, and Where They Used To

There are enough moving parts to immigration policy, and enough changes and alleged changes in the candidates’ positions, that it can be hard to keep track of where the candidates stand. I’ve seen a lot of people get tripped up in describing the state of the debate. So here is, as best I can tell and with the assistance of the Numbers USA website, where the candidates at the center of the immigration debate stand, and where they used to stand. I’ll do almost no editorializing.

Trump: He used to say that Republicans were too hostile to Hispanics and Asian-Americans, calling Mitt Romney’s policies “crazy” and “maniacal.” While standing by those remarks, he now argues for deporting all illegal immigrants, building a wall to block further illegal border-crossing, and letting many illegal immigrants come back to the country. (Trump’s son Eric has complained, justifiably in my view, that news coverage has ignored that last feature of Trump’s plan.) The immigration plan on his website, however, is silent about mass deportation and therefore also about letting deported illegal immigrants come back.

The plan comes out for a “moderation” in legal immigration to help Americans get jobs. In interviews and debates, however, Trump has walked away from this feature of his plan.

Trump’s plan also includes mandatory use of the e-verify system to stop companies from hiring illegal immigrants.

Bush: He has been accused of flip-flopping on whether illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions should be eligible for citizenship or just legal status. He used to favor citizenship, but co-authored a book that came out only for legal status. Legalized illegal immigrants would be able to apply for citizenship but would not cut ahead of other applicants. Bush has also said, though, that he is not dead-set against a path to citizenship: “If you can craft that in law, where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come illegally, I’m for it. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Bush favors making use of the e-verify system mandatory for employers. The immigration plan on his website does not specify how enforcement and legalization would be sequenced, but the use of the words “accompanied” and “combined with” suggests they would be simultaneous.

The book also advocated changing legal immigration policy so that we admit people based on skills rather than on re-uniting extended families. Last year he said that overall immigration levels would not have to be increased as part of that process (at 29:30 here), but at other times he has described legal immigration as necessary to increase the U.S. population, which would seem to imply higher levels.

Cruz: There is a dispute over whether in the past he favored granting legal status to illegal immigrants. He says that he never supported it and never will. He has, however, shifted on legal immigration. He used to favor increases in legal immigration. He voted against capping legal immigration at 33 million over the next decade. Even then, however, he favored an end to extended-family reunification visas. During the present campaign he has toughened this stance, coming out for halting increases in legal immigration “so long as American unemployment remains unacceptably high.”

Cruz, alone among these four candidates, has not come out for making e-verify mandatory in the private sector.

Rubio: Running for the Senate in 2010, Rubio said that an “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty,” which he opposed. In 2013, he co-sponsored legislation that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions. He still favors it. He says, however, that immigration reforms must be approached in a “sequential and piecemeal” way as a matter of legislative strategy.

Rubio says that the first two steps would be to increase enforcement, including by making e-verify mandatory, and to “modernize our legal immigration system so you come to America on the basis of what you can contribute economically, not whether or not simply you have a relative living here.” His 2013 immigration bill would have increased immigration levels. When asked about his support for higher immigration recently, he gave no clear answer.

Only after enforcement legislation had “passed,” his website says, would Americans have enough trust to accept legalization. In debate last night, he strengthened that condition, saying that no legalization could proceed until enforcement “is in place and all of that is working and we can prove to the people of this country that illegal immigration is under control.” Rubio also says that illegal immigrants would have to wait ten years after receiving a work permit to acquire citizenship.


Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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