By Ruben Navarrette
This is clear now that thousands of children from Central America have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
I’ve known the senator from Texas for a dozen years. And he’s scary smart. Yet on immigration and asylum — where one would expect him to bring his A-game because his father, Rafael, emigrated from Cuba in 1957 — Cruz doesn’t sound smart, just scary.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Cruz blamed the crisis on “the failures of (President Obama’s) immigration policy and his lawlessness.”
The president’s immigration policy has caused the deportation of 2 million people. You don’t get much more law-and-order than that.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Cruz accused Democrats of “holding these kids ransom” to pass a Senate immigration bill that he called “one of the causes of this problem.” He said kids are coming “because they believe they will get amnesty.”
The Senate bill would grant legal status to about half of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States — but doesn’t cover new arrivals.
It’s true that many of the children told authorities that they thought they would get a permiso (permit) to stay in the United States. The White House insists that smuggling cartels planted the rumor to gin up business. By charging about $8,000 per child to transport at least 57,000 kids across the border, smugglers could have conceivably earned more than $450 million.
Cruz isn’t blaming the cartels. He’s blaming Obama. However, my sources familiar with the border crisis say that some kids claim the rumor was that “Congress” had passed an amnesty. So why isn’t Cruz blaming House Speaker John Boehner?
In trying to solve the border crisis, the senator mixes together three unrelated things: the DREAM Act, which offered undocumented youth legal status if they went to college or joined the military and which was defeated in December 2010; a 2008 anti-human trafficking law, signed by President George W. Bush, that lets undocumented minors from Central America live with relatives in the United States while awaiting a hearing; and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a 2012 policy change by the Department of Homeland Security that lets undocumented youth brought here as children avoid deportation and apply for work permits. DACA, like the Senate bill, would not apply to the child refugees.
It’s apples, oranges and bananas. Yet for conservatives, it’s all one anarchic fruit salad.
Veering off course, Cruz has introduced bills that would prevent the Obama administration from expanding DACA, change the 2008 anti-human trafficking law, provide resources for state and local governments, and empower border states to send the National Guard to the border.
Seriously? So the way to get children to stop coming here is to punish 20-somethings who have been here for years?
Behold the Republican agenda. They never liked DACA, and they’re opportunistically using the border crisis as an excuse to kill it.
Yet, those dots don’t connect. Check the timeline. Texas Gov. Rick Perry claims that he sent Obama a letter warning about a larger-than-normal flow of Central American minors coming across the U.S.-Mexico border back in May 2012. But that was a month before DACA was unveiled.
So the kids were coming — before the change in policy that Cruz insists promoted them to come.
The senator’s fast-and-loose approach to the immigration issue will hurt him if he runs for president. A Hispanic Republican strategist recently told me that, as badly as the GOP has done with Hispanics in recent elections, it could do more poorly in 2016 if Cruz is the nominee.
In 2012, Mitt Romney got 27 percent of the Latino vote.
“If Ted is the nominee,” the strategist predicted, “he’ll get even less of the Hispanic vote than Romney got.”
This sounds about right. The low-water mark for Republicans is Bob Dole, who in 1996 got a paltry 21 percent of the Latino vote. Cruz could do worse. Whereas Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could make inroads with Latino voters, Cruz would probably end up roadkill.
As someone whose community has entered the United States on a red carpet thanks to that Cold War relic known as the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cruz ought to tread lightly with immigrants and refugees.
Instead, he comes across as Cuban-American royalty telling less worthy peasants from Mexico and Central America to eat flan.
Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist.