Ted Cruz vowed on Monday night that if he is elected of president he will use federal immigration officers to round-up and deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. – a much tougher stance than he has taken in the past and one that came on the eve of the caucus in Latino-heavy Nevada.
“Yes, we should deport them,” Cruz told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. “We should build a wall, we should triple the Border Patrol. Federal law requires that anyone here illegally that’s apprehended should be deported.”
He said that’s why Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, was created in the first place.
“We have law enforcement that looks for people who are violating the laws, that apprehends them and deports them.”
Cruz’s statement, which comes only days after a disappointing third place finish in the South Carolina primary, is a departure of sorts for the Texas lawmaker, who has generally shied away from saying what he would do with undocumented immigrants. The Texas senator has mainly focused his immigration policy on border security and enforcing the laws already in the books.
Five weeks ago, Cruz slammed rival Donald Trump’s idea of rounding up people in the country illegally.
“I don’t intend to send jackboots to knock on your door and every door in America. That’s not how we enforce the law for any crime,” Cruz said, according to the Dallas Morning News.
While Trump has unabashedly been the most vocal candidate pushing a strict immigration policy, Cruz has contended throughout the campaign that he has the toughest policy in regards to immigration – arguing that Trump would allow those deported to eventually come back to the country, while he wouldn’t.
Trump mocked Cruz's comments on "The O'Reilly Factor" by saying the only reason the Texas senator is now supporting deporting undocumented immigrants is because of his third place finish in South Carolina.
"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 wrote on Twitter.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 23, 2016
Cruz’s campaign balked at any assertion that the candidate has changed his policy on immigration, saying that Cruz has always had a tough stance on immigration and that his comments to Bill O’Reilly were in sync with his policy.
“There’s no change here,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told the Dallas Morning News in an email. “Cruz has been very clear: people who are here illegally should be deported. 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.”
Cruz’s comments came a day before Tuesday’s Nevada Caucus, where Latinos make up 28 percent of the state. While the group is not expected to play as big a role as it did in the Democratic caucus, experts say that the hardline stance that Cruz and Trump have taken toward immigration may not play well with Latino Republican caucus-goers.
“Unfortunately, those two individuals are doing so much to create that tension and that skepticism that those who maybe have never voted before or that are now becoming U.S. citizens are leaning toward whoever the Democratic candidate would be,” Fernando Romero, of the nonpartisan Las Vegas group Hispanics in Politics, said.