If the last several election cycles are any indication, we should expect a Republican primary season dominated by GOP candidates accusing one another of supporting “amnesty” and attempting to prove who among them is the most restrictive when it comes to immigration.
The debate is a tired one, characterized by little substantive policy action in Congress and too few politicians of national prominence willing to do anything but demagogue the issue.
But the 2016 presidential race now underway could be different, and Ted Cruz could be the candidate to change the conversation.
Yes, I’m referring to the same Ted Cruz who the mainstream media has branded a conservative hardliner known more for filibusters than for a thoughtful policy mind.
That portrayal is a caricature, a product of lazy reporting and a fourth estate that is more comfortable with the worldview proffered by Hillary Clinton than anyone seeking the GOP nomination.
Cruz offers much more thoughtfulness on one of the day’s toughest issues than anything that’s coming from the MSNBC camp, however.
Despite immigration having unfortunately been cast as an issue that only fractures the American electorate, there is room for agreement among members of both parties in several areas that a majority of the American public would support. And Cruz can speak with credibility and eloquence on all of them, citing a biography that is quintessentially American and underscores that we are a nation of immigrants.
Looking back at the debate surrounding passage of immigration legislation in the Senate two years ago by the so called “Gang of Eight” provides insight into how a President Cruz could make substantive progress on immigration.
During 2013’s congressional action, when Democrats controlled the Senate, Cruz offered amendment language to the immigration bill that sought to enhance border security; improve legal immigration, including doubling the cap on legal immigrants and greatly increase the number of high tech visas; and making ineligible for citizenship those currently here in an unlawful status – because he predicted that unless the third item was included in the bill, the legislation in its current form was dead on arrival to the House.
Obviously, the last of those is the thorniest, but tightening border security and reforming our legal immigration pathways offer incredible opportunity for real progress.
Cruz has sought to streamline our byzantine visa and green card system that has, for far too long, turned away the best and brightest, those who could greatly add to America’s prosperity. Cruz in 2013 proposed to do away with the diversity lottery, consolidate the number of employment-based green card categories and dramatically reduce the amount or red tape that surrounds the immigration process.
Cruz has righty framed immigration not only as an issue centered on security, but one that is central to the country’s future economic competitiveness. Cruz knows that immigrants are highly entrepreneurial and contribute positively to the nation’s GDP. If the U.S. is going to be an economic leader, it’s going to have to encourage legal immigration.
And, to be fair, Cruz would put in bold face and underline legal immigration. He makes no bones about the need for a more secure border and adherence to the rule of law. But as a border state senator, a Latino and an American whose immediate family played by the rules in its American journey, he brings real world perspective to the immigration debate.
Cruz has lived immigration. He’s seen its positive effects on his own family and on the economy. But he’s also seen the negative effects of illegal immigration as a border state leader, a state that is once again preparing for another surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America.
Immigration will again be top of mind in the Republican presidential primary. The idea of passing parts of an immigration plan where both sides of the aisle can agree on some of the issues is paramount to eventually arriving to the issues that need more work – it should not be an all-or-nothing plan. Of all the GOP candidates, Ted Cruz is the one to watch as someone who can unite the party and repair fault lines on one of our most contentious issues.
Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido