Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is standing by a push he made to increase legal immigration in 2013, highlighting an apparent divide between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the rest of the GOP presidential field on immigration.
Walker, a likely contender with Cruz for the 2016 GOP nomination, ignited a media frenzy last week when he said legal immigration policy should revolve around the needs of American workers. (RELATED: WSJ Editorial Board Takes A Sloppy Shot At Walker)
“In terms of legal immigration … it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today, is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages,” Walker said in an interview with Glenn Beck, reported by Breitbart News.
Since 1970, the foreign-born population of the U.S. has more than tripled to 41 million, according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service for the Senate Judiciary Committee. (RELATED: Wages Declined As Immigration Surged)
Asked to respond to Walker’s comments last week, Cruz said he’s the Senate’s biggest advocate for legal immigration. “I think the right approach is to secure the border, follow the rule of law, and embrace and improve legal immigration,” he told the Washington Examiner.
Cruz was highly critical of the 2013 comprehensive immigration package, sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — another presidential contender — and seven other senators together dubbed the “Gang of Eight,” in terms of how it addressed illegal immigration. But he said the bill didn’t go “nearly far enough” to increase legal immigration, and offered amendments to build significantly on those increases.
“I think high-tech immigrants are an unambiguous good for our economy, and for our country,” he said, referring to an amendment that would raise the limit on high-skilled workers by 500 percent, from 65,000 to 325,000. “And I think bringing more high-skilled high-tech immigrants to this country generates economic growth and produces jobs.”
Another amendment Cruz offered was designed to increase the overall limit on immigration, with a priority for high-skilled workers and their nuclear families. It would also have created a new type of visa for workers in any occupation the Department of Labor designates with a labor shortage.
“I would suggest it is the bosses of unions who would like to see legal immigration limited,” he said. “I think we need to expand legal immigration, and at the same time secure the borders.”
The foreign-born population under The Gang of Eight bill would have grown at the fastest rate in American history, hitting a record high of 15 percent of the population by 2020, or one in seven Americans, according to an analysis of Congressional Budget Office numbers by Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that favors lower immigration numbers. By 2033 the population would have hit 65.2 million under the law.
A spokesman for Cruz told The Daily Caller News Foundation he stands by his 2013 comments, but that his campaign is working on a current, detailed immigration platform.
“Yes, Cruz stands by his comments in 2013,” spokesman Rick Tyler said. “During that debate, Cruz presented evidence that an increase in certain types of visas improves the economy, creates jobs, and increases wages for Americans.” He noted it is against the law for an employer to replace a U.S. worker with an H-1B worker or to pay less than the prevailing wage. (RELATED: Displaced Workers Sue DHS Over Work Permit Expansion)
“As he has consistently argued, his approach will be to end Obama’s unconstitutional executive order on amnesty, secure the border and stop illegal immigration, while improving and streamlining legal immigration,” Tyler added.
In follow up interviews this week, Walker implied he would take a different approach, and has not indicated he agrees with Cruz that the right kind of immigration benefits American workers.
“If unemployment is high, and labor participation is low, why would we want to open the door and flood the market with more workers at a time when our own people here are looking for work?” Walker said on Fox News Saturday. “Conversely, as the economy improves, of course we can look at ways to open the doors for more immigration.”
A spokeswoman for Walker declined to answer specific questions about Walker’s view of current immigration levels and the economic merits of immigration, instead referring TheDCNF back to his statements stressing that the economic impact on American workers should drive immigration policy.
But as it currently stands, Walker is the only serious GOP contender even talking about limiting the flow of foreign workers, rather than expanding it.
Rubio is cosponsoring a bill recently introduced in the Senate that would triple the number of H-1B visas and allow for a virtually unlimited number of university-based green cards.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul — another presidential contender — also supports bringing in more foreign workers, and voted against the Gang of Eight bill because it was too restrictive on legal immigration. “The unions supported [the bill] only if we would restrict work visas,” he said in a 2014 discussion at the University of Chicago. “That’s the opposite of what you need to do. You need to expand work visas so we can find a place for these people to come out of the shadows.”
And Republican candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said more guest workers are key to sustained economic growth. The U.S. should “dramatically” expand the number of immigrants coming to work rather than reunite with family, and that guest workers are necessary to take jobs where there are shortages, he said at the Detroit Economic Club in February.
Walker has recently been accused of inconsistency in his immigration positions. He supported a 2005 bill sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy that included a path to permanent status for illegal immigrants. He now says he opposes amnesty, and that anyone who wants to become a citizen should return to their home country and get in the back of the line — a position he admits is a reversal from 2005. Still, when pressed by The Daily Caller, Walker’s campaign refused to rule out a path to some kind of legal status for illegal immigrants.
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