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Is Ted Cruz the Trump Alternative? Not When it Comes to Immigration Policy

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Donald Trump’s loss in the Wisconsin primary has generated a fresh round of assessments that Ted Cruz has the momentum as the leading alternative to Trump for the GOP nomination. However, when it comes to immigration, Cruz isn’t much of an alternative to Trump’s nativism. Both have adopted hardline anti-immigrant policy positions that are sharply at odds with the views the American electorate—and with Republican primary voters as well.

Perhaps in anticipation of the impending loss in Wisconsin, yesterday Trump ran a favorite play from his campaign playbook: unveil a racist, unrealistic, and controversial idea in an attempt to change the media narrative. Trump’s “plan” to force the government of Mexico to pay for an unnecessary and insulting wall—and doing so by threatening the transmission of remittances sent by hard working immigrants in America to their loved ones back in Mexico—is the height of nativist idiocy.

But Trump’s racist radicalism shouldn’t let Cruz look moderate by comparison. As President Obama said yesterday, foreign leaders have been expressing alarm about the ideas emanating from the Republican presidential campaign trail, and he emphasized, “[i]t’s not just Mr. Trump’s proposals, but I’ve also been hearing concerns with Mr. Cruz’s proposals.”

On immigration, Cruz has outlined a vision that is—get this—to the right of Mitt Romney’s. Similar to Romney, Cruz now pledges to oppose any legalization effort for undocumented immigrants of any kind, and calls for “attrition through enforcement” – an idea taken directly from extreme anti-immigrant groups and the very same notion underscoring Romney’s infamous and unpopular “self-deportation” stance. The hideous idea is to make the lives of undocumented immigrants so miserable that those not rounded up will pick up and “voluntarily” leave the country. But unlike Romney, Cruz embraces significant new restrictions on legal immigration, allying himself with Donald Trump’s views and bragging that his new stance has been influenced by ultra-hardliners such as Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Notably, the deportation-focused vision shared by both Trump and Cruz is wildly unpopular. Last week, polling from the Pew Research Center found that Americans preferred policies that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay legally in the U.S. by a 74%-25% margin, including by a 57%-41% margin among Republicans.

Also last week, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), released the 2015 American Values Atlas on Americans’ views on immigration. The PRRI study, with a massive sample size of 42,000 interviews, found that Americans support legalization over deportation by a 77%-19% margin (including 62% of respondents who supported a pathway to citizenship). Among Republican respondents, PRRI found that 52% of Republicans back a pathway to citizenship and 14% support legalization with no citizenship (a combined 66% of GOP respondents therefore support legal status), while only 30% of Republicans backed deportation.

And in Republican primary exit polling, GOP respondents in 15 of the 17 states that asked the question have supported offering undocumented immigrants “a chance to apply for legal status” instead of deportation. This includes exit polling from last night’s contest in Wisconsin, where Republican voters backed legal status over deportation by a 61%-34% margin.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Yes, Donald Trump is running the most explicitly nativist and anti-immigrant presidential campaign in modern American history. But while Ted Cruz doesn’t indulge the Donald’s penchant for overt racism, he sure knows how to blow the dog whistle. The bottom line is that the two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are so extreme in their immigration policy views that the GOP seems destined, once again, to go over the demographic cliff in 2016. We can only imagine what the RNC’s autopsy will say after this election.”