A Struggling Cruz Doubles Down on Mass Deportation
Policy + Politics

A Struggling Cruz Doubles Down on Mass Deportation

© Mike Stone / Reuters

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has had relatively little to say in recent months about his startling pledge to round up and deport the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in this country if he is elected president, even as he reminds supporters at virtually every campaign stop that he will build a security wall along the southwestern border and force Mexico to pay for it.

Trump’s deportation plan is so patently absurd, unmanageable and legally dubious that even conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have dismissed the proposal as a lot of ill-conceived hot air. “I don’t intend to send jackboots to knock on your door and every door in America,” Cruz told CNN’s Jake Tapper in Iowa five weeks ago in Iowa. “That’s not how we enforce the law for any crime.”

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

But Cruz has taken a tumble since he beat Trump and the rest of the GOP field in the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1. He is struggling to overcome poor showings in New Hampshire and South Carolina and to weather attacks from Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who accuse him of dirty campaign tricks and lying about his opponents’ records. On Monday, Cruz had to fire his campaign spokesman, Rick Tyler, for spreading a misleading video about Rubio.

In a thinly veiled attempt to rekindle conservative support for his campaign, Cruz said Monday evening on Fox News that – if elected president – he would deploy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to round up and deport the 11 million to 12 million people living in the country illegally.

Cruz reaffirmed his support for Trump’s plan to build a wall, while tripling the Border Patrol and bolstering funding for ICE. When asked by Fox Host Bill O’Reilly whether he would “look for” illegal immigrants to round up and deport, Cruz replied: “Look, Bill, of course you would. That’s what ICE exists for. We have law enforcement that looks for people who are violating the laws, that apprehend them and deports them.”

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

Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier told the Dallas Morning News that “There’s no change here” in her boss’s position, although it sure sounded like it.

 “Cruz has been very clear: People who are here illegally should be deported,” Frazier said. “That is the law today. Period. They broke the law, they face the consequence. ICE exists for that purpose and they should continue to do their job. And on top of that, any law enforcement that encounters those here illegally should follow the law and deport them.”

Trump, campaigning in Nevada today as he seeks another big victory in tonight’s GOP caucuses, gleefully criticized Cruz for toughening his position after finishing a disappointing third to Trump and Rubio in South Carolina last Saturday. "Ted Cruz only talks tough on immigration now because he did so badly in S.C. He is in favor of amnesty and weak on illegal immigration," Trump tweeted.

A new NBC News/Survey Monkey poll shows the billionaire Trump still leading the GOP presidential pack nationwide with 36 percent of the Republican vote, followed by Cruz with 19 percent, Rubio at 16 percent, Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 8 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 8 percent.

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

Rubio, one of the architects of a stymied Senate comprehensive immigration plan that would have granted millions of illegal immigrants a path to legal status or even citizenship, said recently that he would not deport 12 million people in the U.S. illegally, and would instead propose solutions to accommodate those who have no criminal record.

"We're not going to round up and deport 12 million people," Rubio told the Associated Press during a campaign trip in eastern Iowa. "Criminals can't stay. Felons, people who are dangerous — they are not staying,” he said.