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Ted Cruz as GOP’s Trump Alternative? An Echo, Not a Choice, on Immigration

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The Republican presidential contest appears to be winnowing down to a two-person race. As ABC News Political Director Rick Klein assesses, “With Chris Christie and Jeb Bush gone, and Marco Rubio and John Kasich left scrambling to win their home states, Republicans are facing the prospect of seeing Ted Cruz emerge as their main alternative to Donald Trump.”

Yet through the lens of immigration policy and the GOP’s existential need to improve its general election standing among Latinos and other fast-growing demographic groups of voters, Cruz fails to provide a real alternative to Trump.

While Donald Trump calls for a Deportation Force to remove every undocumented immigrant and millions of American citizen children within the first two years of his administration, Ted Cruz has adopted an immigration stance that is to the right of Mitt Romney’s. Cruz pledges to oppose any legalization effort for undocumented immigrants and calls for “attrition through enforcement” – an idea taken directly from extreme anti-immigrant groups and the same notion underscoring Romney’s “self-deportation” stance.

Recently, on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” program, Cruz cited the Arizona “show me your papers” immigration law as an example of what he hopes to bring to the nation as a whole. 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.  Unlike Romney, Cruz also 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).

Assessing the prospect of either Trump or Cruz as the Republican nominee, Politico’s Mike Allen wrote, “[the] nominee will be one of the two most divisive and anti-establishment Republicans in the country. Both are anti-immigration hardliners with no track record of winning over women, or Hispanics, or Asians or young people. Burn that RNC autopsy report, quick! All the chips are on white conservatives.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Compared to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz presents an echo, not a choice, on immigration. Instead of heeding its own advice after Mitt Romney’s 2012 debacle, the GOP is careening headlong into a general election scenario that could make its 2012 disaster with Latino voters look quaint.”

A new editorial from USA Today underscores why both Trump’s mass deportation plan and Cruz’s self-deportation plan would be impractical, inhumane, prohibitively expensive, and fundamentally un-American:

“Businessman Donald Trump has made calls for deporting the roughly 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the USA a staple of his campaign. And recently Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is emerging as Trump’s leading rival for the Republican presidential nomination, has jumped on board the deportation train, saying he too would remove them all.

Mass deportation is a popular position among many voters in the GOP primaries and caucuses. But the concept is so unworkable that it’s a wonder anyone takes the idea very seriously. Because Trump and Cruz have said so little about how they’d accomplish this pledge, a case can be made that it’s little more than a way to court people unhappy with America’s changing demographics.

Any president who tried to deport 11 million people, the equivalent of emptying out the state of Ohio, would face immediate practical and political problems. Some 60% of today’s undocumented workers have been in the USA for 10 years or more. They have been integrated into their communities.

What’s more, 3.5 million of the undocumented immigrants who have been here at least six years (and could therefore receive leniency under an Obama administration executive order being disputed in court) have children who are U.S. citizens. Removing them would involve splitting up families or sending kids to what — to them — are foreign countries.

Locating millions of immigrants for deportation would take a very dramatic increase in domestic surveillance and enforcement, including door-to-door roundups. Mistakes would inevitably be made, with legal immigrants and citizens swept up in the process. Courts that handle immigration cases would be overwhelmed.

Mass deportations would also harm the economy. Most undocumented workers are in relatively low-skilled jobs, but about a quarter are in white-collar jobs. Of those, about half are in management, finance or professional careers. Removing large numbers would have a very significant impact on the businesses that employ them. Undocumented workers make up about 5.1% of the American workforce at a time when a 4.9% unemployment rate shows that labor markets are growing tight.

Although mass deportation might play well in Republican primaries, the idea would be a much tougher sell in a general election. Roughly two-thirds of respondents to a Gallup poll said they favored giving undocumented workers a chance to normalize their status. In the 2012 election, GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who had merely suggested that illegal immigrants “self deport,” received just 27% of the Hispanic vote, effectively dooming his chances.

Yes, the law should have meaning, and tough border enforcement should be coupled with an arduous path to legality for anyone already here. In fact, the Obama administration has deported not insignificant numbers, mostly of people apprehended along the border.

In 2013, the most recent year for which there are data, 438,000 were sent home. President Obama has received some blowback for these deportations. The opposition would grow considerably if his successor tried to greatly increase that number, and to draw from the ranks of those firmly rooted in American communities.

For these reasons, campaign talk of deporting 11 million should be taken with extreme skepticism. Trump, in fact, has hinted about flexibility on his immigration positions, raising the possibility that his extreme position represents an opening bid. If that’s the case, he should come out and say so.

One reason Trump and Cruz are doing so well is that voters are tired of establishment politicians who don’t keep their promises. On deportation, the front-runners are making a promise they know they won’t be able to deliver on.”