Sen. Ted Cruz intends to use a bill mitigating the humanitarian crisis at the border to push for the deportation of undocumented youth who have been in the country for years, a move that is inflaming the already rancorous immigration debate.
The Texas Republican will fight to attach language to the bill calling for an end to President Barack Obama’s program to defer deportation for qualified young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children (known as DACA), his office tells TPM.
“We are focused on ensuring that DACA is stopped and working with colleagues to make that happen,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in an email. “DACA overall is terrible policy. The senator wants to stop it.”
Notably, Cruz isn’t pushing to deport those who have already benefited from DACA, but rather will seek to make sure no one else can qualify for it. “We want to stop people from getting DACA now. Anyone who hasn’t been granted, should not be moving forward. And it shouldn’t be expanded,” Frazier said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) lambasted the intentions of the “junior senator from Texas” on Thursday morning.
“Before Republicans help our Border Patrol agents address this humanitarian crisis, they want President Obama to deport the Dreamers who are already living here. These are children, but instead of considering a thoughtful, compassionate solution to a real-life crisis, radical Republicans would rather hold these kids ransom,” he said on the Senate floor. “These children are real – real human beings. They should not be used as pawns in Republicans’ high-stakes game of chicken with President Obama.”
DACA, established in 2012, only applies to people under 31 who arrived in the U.S. before June 15, 2007. Republicans strongly oppose the program because, they say, Obama created it by executive action. The conservative base strongly opposes leniency for unauthorized immigrants. But GOP leaders have been somewhat wary of waging an all-out attack on DACA for fear of damaging their already toxic brand with Hispanic voters.
Cruz’s new battle cry complicates matters for his party. Even if the House embraces his plan, it won’t fly in the Democratic-led Senate. But it emboldens the immigration-weary wing of the GOP, led by Iowa Rep. Steve King, and puts Republican lawmakers in the awkward position of choosing between the hard right and Dreamers.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), a GOP point person in addressing the crisis, is open to Cruz’s proposal, his office told TPM.
“Sen. Cornyn has repeatedly said he believes the President’s DACA policy is related to the crisis we’re facing on our southern border. We are happy to take a look at Sen. Cruz’s language when it becomes available,” said Cornyn spokeswoman Megan Mitchell.
Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-immigration America’s Voice, offered a preview of how advocates will attack Cruz’s push.
“Senator Cruz has declared war on Dreamers, who are Americans in all but paperwork. Good luck with that, Senator,” Sharry said in a statement. “Good luck explaining to Latino voters how it is sensible or just to use the occasion of an 8-year old fleeing violence and arriving at our border as rationale for trying to deport a 20-year old college student who’s been living here for a decade.”
This article has been updated to include a comment from Sen. Cornyn’s office.