Sen. Ted Cruz is dead set against any path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, unless it sends them on a detour back to their native countries, he told talk show host Sean Hannity in an interview on Monday.
The Texas Republican, a Tea Party conservative, said that including a path to citizenship for the undocumented in any immigration reform measure “is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who have followed the rules, who have waited in line.”
Cruz, whose family came from Cuba, said he supports parts of immigration reform that would make it easier for people to come legally to the United States to make it home.
“To the extent they are improving and streamlining legal immigration so our legal immigration system works better, I think that's a good thing also,” Cruz told the Fox News host.
Cruz’s tough stance on legalization puts him at odds with his fellow Cuban-American lawmaker and Tea Party conservative, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who supports a path to legalization. Rubio, however, wants a path to legalization that includes payment of back taxes and other concessions. The Florida lawmaker also has said that securing the border and avoiding future flows of illegal immigration must be an integral part of any immigration reform.
Hannity asked Cruz: “What about what Rubio's been saying about a path to a green card?”
“I think the American people have learned before that when politicians promise to secure the border, every time it's been said in the past, it hasn't happened,” Cruz said. “So, I think most voters share the skepticism about it. […] I think most voters share the skepticism I have about empty promises and hot air.”
Rubio is part of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan Senate group that includes four Republicans and four Democrats who are crafting a bill to secure the nation's borders, improve legal immigration and offer eventual legal permanent residency to millions now in the U.S. illegally.
Asked about the Senate bill, Cruz said to Hannity: “It depends on what the details are that are in the bill. We still haven't actually seen the bill. [New York Senator] Chuck Schumer keeps promising that there is some bill that one day he'll show the world.”
He praised parts that are rumored to be part of the bill, such as devoting more resources to secure the border, including using more technology, and streamlining the system for settling legally in the United States.
Cruz also raised doubts about the contention by President Obama that passing a comprehensive immigration reform is one of his top priorities in his second term. The president has said he would like to see a bill by summer.
“I think the reason that President Obama is insisting on a path to citizenship is that it is designed to be a poison pill to scuttle the whole bill, so he can have a political issue in 2014 and 2016,” Cruz said. “I think that's really unfortunate.”
In a press briefing about two weeks ago, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Cruz's characterization of Obama and immigration reform was baseless.
"There’s no evidence to support those claims," he said. "What the President has been saying for quite some time now is that he believes that comprehensive immigration reform is in the best interests of the economy of the United States of America. It also is the best way to demonstrate that we are both a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws."
Rubio and other Republicans have taken issue with Cruz's hardline stance, saying it fails to recognize the reality that there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, and that they cannot all be deported.
At a news conference earlier this year, Rubio said: "We also have to ensure we did not do anything to encourage people to come here illegally in the future. But by the same token, we are dealing with 11 million human beings who are … here undocumented, the vast and enormous majority of whom have come here in pursuit of what all of us would recognize as the American dream."
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's weak showing among Hispanic and Asian voters last November helped seal his loss, experts say. U.S. John McCain of Arizona and many other Republicans warn that the GOP risks permanent minority status if it doesn't resolve the immigration issue.