Cruz Control on Immigration: Driving a Line Between Texas and Tea Party

Photograph by David J. Phillip/AP Photo

A campaign sign for Republican candidate for Senate Ted Cruz is reflected in the sunglasses of campaign intern Lorenzo Garcia in Houston.

Before anyone gets carried away with the Kumbaya dance of Sens. John McCain and Chuck Schumer promoting a comprehensive and “permanent” fix for the nation’s immigration problems, take note of what’s coming from the new senator from Texas.

“I have deep concerns with the proposed path to citizenship,” Ted Cruz, the newly elected and first Hispanic senator from Texas, says. ‘To allow those who came here illegally to be placed on such a path is both inconsistent with rule of law and profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who waited years, if not decades, to come to America legally.”

On Twitter, the Republican who won election with Tea Party backing, writes:

Yet there’s a significant word missing from the senator’s Tweet or initial formal statement: Amnesty.

The battle-cry of opponents of immigration reform confronts a couple of new realities:

The growing influence of the Latino community, a constituency that gave 71 percent of its vote to President Barack Obama in November — in Cruz’s own state, Hispanics account for 38 percent of the population. It was a former governor and president, George W. Bush, who came to Washington with an understanding of the need for immigration reform. Family values, Bush liked to say, didn’t stop at the Rio Grande.

McCain, Schumer and company also have been careful to craft the path to citizenship as something that must be worked for — with Schumer underscoring the fines that would be levied along the way to a green card for an undocumented immigrant. Few people are punished forever for their crimes, Schumer noted in an appearance with McCain on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today. And the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally should not be punished forever, he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American Republican from another state with a powerful Hispanic constituency (23 percent), put it this way on Hugh Hewitt’s show this morning: “First of all, there’s no such thing as a path to citizenship. What there is, is a path to permanent residency, a path to a green card. That’s what we have in this country. Nobody can come here and say I want to come in as a citizen. What you get is a green card, which you have to qualify for through a process of applying. Ultimately, if you have a green card, five years after you get it, you can apply for citizenship, which is something you have to qualify for. As you know, you have to pass an exam and a series of other things that you have to do.”

Cruz won election with a direct appeal to the catchwords of polarization. He called Obama the “most radical president,” railed against the “gay rights agenda” and warned against new threats to “religious liberty.” The National Review anointed him “the next great conservative hope.”

The impetus for an immigration overhaul — the 2012 elections — will come face to face with hard-line opponents who have blocked it in the past. That means critics such as Cruz, who is driving a certain line of balance between Texas and the Tea Party.

How hard his line is remains to be seen.

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