Ted Cruz Wants to Be Tougher Than Trump on Illegal Immigrants
Policy + Politics

Ted Cruz Wants to Be Tougher Than Trump on Illegal Immigrants

© Mike Stone / Reuters

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said on Monday that while both he and Donald Trump favor deporting the 11.3 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., they differ on at least one key point.

“Look, there’s a difference,” Cruz replied to a questioner in Boone, Iowa, according to BuzzFeed. "He’s advocated allowing [deported] folks to come back and become citizens. I oppose that.”

Related: 5 Reasons the Trump Immigration Plan Doesn’t Pass the Reality Test

Cruz, who is currently leading Trump in Iowa in the GOP presidential contest, understandably is doing everything he can to gain an advantage over the Republican presidential frontrunner among the most conservative elements of their party. But his comments only underscore the surrealism of much of the GOP debate over immigration policy.

Rather than explaining precisely how and when a new Republican administration could manage to triple or quadruple the rate of deportations under President Obama without driving up the deficit and shredding the Constitution, Cruz and Trump are quibbling over whether any of the deportees to Central America, Mexico and elsewhere should be given the chance to go to the back of the line and apply for permission to reenter the U.S. Trump has said he would let the “good ones” reenter the country through an expedited process and stay here legally, without citizenship.

Trump launched his campaign for president with tirades against illegal immigrants and a vow to build a wall along the 1,933-mile U.S.-Mexico border. He stunned the political world last August by declaring that, if elected, he would round up and deport the millions of adults and children living illegally in the U.S.

In a brief written proposal and a series of television interviews, Trump outlined a plan to create an enormous force of federal agents dedicated to tracking down and deporting every illegal immigrant in the country. Many would be forced to take their U.S.-born children with them, despite the fact that those children are indisputably U.S. citizens.

 “We’re going to keep the families together,” Trump said in an interview on NBC News. “But they have to go.”

Related: Trump Would Fight Illegal Immigration with Economic Penalties

Trump’s plan would require a constitutional amendment repealing the birthright citizenship language in the 14th Amendment. It would necessitate the construction of detention centers unlike any that ever operated in this country. It would require a quasi-judicial system of sorts that could be set up to identify the “good” immigrants who, according to Trump, would be deported and then later allowed back into the country.

And the plan would cost a small fortune to implement. The conservative American Action Forum estimated that expelling every illegal immigrant in the country would cost somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion.

Finally, it would take at least 20 years to accomplish — meaning that even if Trump were to be elected to two terms as president, one or more of his successors would have to carry through on the extraordinary policy.

In short, Trump’s proposal was so far into an “alternate reality,” as Democratic preesidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton might say, that it seems inconceivable that nearly five months later, anyone would be seriously discussing the matter.

Related: 9 Trump Positions that Make Liberals Want to Move to Canada

After setting records in deporting illegal immigrants — peaking at 438,000 in 2013 — the Obama administration has dramatically curtailed those activities as part of an effort to shelter millions of illegal immigrants and the children they brought to this country. Last year, roughly 229,000 illegal immigrants were deported, a 27 percent decline from 2014 and 50 percent less than in 2012, according to The Washington Post.

But even rounding up, processing, housing and finally deporting diminished numbers of men, women and children is enormously complicated and time consuming. That was the evident from the administration’s post-Christmas, nationwide operations to oust additional illegal immigrants who entered the country beginning early last year.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced on Monday that federal immigration authorities apprehended 121 adults and children in raids last weekend in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. They are being held in federal detention centers before they will be flown home to Central America.

Related: Paul Ryan Rejects Trump’s Plan to Deport 12 Million Illegal Immigrants

But as Johnson explained, the task has been challenging for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For instance, detainees are entitled to a judicial review of their cases and an appeal process. And because of the sensitivity of taking children into custody and then deporting them, immigration authorities had to take numerous precautions during the raids. They used female agents when possible to apprehend families and they had medical personnel standing by in case of emergencies, according to Johnson’s statement.

All of this amounts to a tiny fraction of the effort it would take to implement a plan like Trump’s — one that would likely stand as the most reviled and closely scrutinized policy since the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last August, a solid 72 percent of Americans — including 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicanssaid that undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to remain in this country legally if they meet certain requirements.

Related: Trump to Carson: There Can Be Only One of Us

At the same time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups continue to support immigration reform — including provisions to grant legal status to illegal immigrants — to ensure a steady supply of both high skilled and low-skilled workers.

Sure, Trump’s plan was greeted with skepticism or unalloyed derision by many of his Republican presidential rivals, but not so Cruz. The Texan is currently on a political hot streak and has aligned himself with some of the most extreme anti-immigrant forces in Iowa, including GOP Rep. Steve King. On the question of whether he supports the idea of mass arrests and deportations, Cruz said yesterday: “Absolutely, yes. We should enforce the law.”