Several Republican presidential candidates were bloodied over their shifting positions on immigration reform in Thursday’s debate, but a key voice in the debate says all of the candidates seem to be edging to a more conservative position on border security and what to do about people in the U.S. Illegally.
In the debate, candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were confronted with montages of their own statements that seemed to contradict what they’re saying now. Rubio was quoted from 2010 saying that an earned pathway to citizenship was code for amnesty yet he backed such a pathway in the 2013 Senate immigration bill.
Cruz was asked to explain statements from 2013, when he tried to amend the immigration bill by banning citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally but allowing them to become legalized. Cruz insists that was a poison pill designed to show how unreasonable Rubio and the other sponsors were and that he has never really backed a path to legalization.
Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian says everyone has blemishes on this issue.
“Nobody is pure on this issue. not Trump, not Cruz, not Rubio, not Jeb. They’ve all shifted their positions,” said Krikorian.
But he says they are are all flip-flopping in an encouraging way to him.
“They’ve all shifted their positions in the right direction. They’ve all become more hawkish on immigration as the public concern over the issue has become clearer and harder and harder to deny,” said Krikorian.
But not all flip-flopping is created equal. Krikorian says Jeb Bush is the least credible on the issue but doesn’t see Bush as still having a shot at the nomination. Among the top tier of candidates, he says Rubio has the most to answer for because of his involvement in the Gang of Eight legislation.
“I’m not sure that people are going to forgive and forget that and I’m not sure that they should. In a sense, no matter what he says, it’s important that somebody who does the kind of thing Rubio did be punished politically no matter what he thinks now. In other words, that there be a price exacted so that other people in the future will think twice about doing what Rubio did to help Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama,” said Krikorian.
Krikorian is also thrilled the issue is getting so much attention in this campaign. He says Donald Trump deserves credit for pushing the issue to the forefront but not as much credit as Trump gives himself.
“Even if he weren’t in the race, not just Republicans but independents and even lots of Reagan Democrats, are really concerned about this immigration issue. It would be coming up. There’s no question about it but Trump is right. He has gotten so much traction talking about this that the other candidates have been scrambling more than they would have been scrambling otherwise,” said Krikorian.
While voters must determine the sincerity of the candidates, Krikorian says Americans have made it clear what they want on immigration.
“The only way the public would ever accept amnesty would be if we fixed the problem first,” said Krikorian. “Plug the hole in your boat first before you talk about how you’re going to bail it out.”
But Krikorian says candidates and the media have missed the most critical immigration issue – defining the extent of legal immigration.
“The more important issue is how much legal immigration do you think the United States wants to have. We have tens of millions of Americans who want to work and can’t find work,” said Krikorian.