GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz told an immigrant from Mexico, who has been praised by Cruz's national campaign Rep. Steve King as someone who "lights up any room," that there are consequences for law breakers like her who come to the country illegally.
Cruz's response to Ofelia Valdez, who works for a non-profit that assists children with special needs, drew applause from those attending the Storm Lake, Iowa, event Wednesday. In an interview with NBC News Latino, Valdez said Cruz's declaration that deporting people like her would be a priority was hard to hear and disappointing.
Rep Steve King, R-Iowa, recently visited Valdez's workplace and the Storm Lake Times reported Saturday that he said he did so because of his relationship with Valdez. He praised Valdez in the article.
Valdez, 30, identified herself to Cruz as one of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived or stayed in the country illegally, but have been allowed to remain and work under President Barack Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
"As a DACA holder myself, I worried about whoever comes next to the presidency and what's going to happen to people like us," Valdez says in the video, her voice sounding nervous. "I think of myself as a part of this community and you know, first day of presidency, you decide to deport, you know, people like myself, you know, it's just very difficult (inaudible)."
Cruz responds that by definition, a DACA recipient was brought to the U.S. illegally "and violating the laws has consequences."
"One of the problems of our broken immigration system is that it is creating human tragedies and there are human tragedies when people break the law," he said.
He goes on to say other countries deport people who arrive illegally and U.S. laws should be equally respected and the consequences to breaking the law are "part of what makes America what we are."
Reached in Storm Lake by phone, Valdez told NBC News Latino that she had been wanting to hear the candidates and learned in a Google search that Cruz would be in town.
"I didn't know what to expect ... and was surprised when he was talking about things on his list for his first day of his presidency and at the top of the list was to deport immigrants here with DACA," Valdez said. "That's myself."
A Huffington Post contributor tweeted from Cruz's event that King did not applaud Cruz's response to Valdez and posted video.
King was not immediately available for comment.
She told NBC she came to the U.S. at 15; she and her family are from Mexico.
"We are dealing with so much as a country of so much more importance and that is what he is focusing on," she said. "I agree with some of the things he has on his agenda, terrorism and other things the country is experiencing, and then he decides to do deportation as a priority his first days in office."
Valdez said she is a human resources director overseeing 140 people and also is an English as A Second Language instructor. She said she hopes the exchange helps put a face to who is being discussed when candidates talk about "illegal immigrants."
"They need to know this is who they talk about when they talk about deportations," she said.
Cruz was flanked at the event by King, whom he recently named a national co-chair of his campaign. King has tried to end the DACA program through legislation and legislative provisions he's drafted and has stirred controversy by comparing immigrants to drug mules and cattle.
The Storm Lake Times article was provided to NBC News Latino by Matt Hildreth, director of Iowa's Voice, a project of America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. The newspaper reported that King and Valdez had met at a town hall held by King. They had discussed.
"Ofelia lights up any room she's in," King said. "I've known Ofelia since a town meeting last year and we've had a great relationship ever since."
Many DACA recipients were brought to the country as young children and have grown up here as the Congress has failed for more than a decade to address their situation. Legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to legal residency or citizenship for many of the immigrants who attended college or served in the military, has failed repeatedly.
Cruz's position on immigration has been under scrutiny because of his previous support for expanding legal immigration avenues. But since he was grilled about his position by Marco Rubio in a GOP presidential debate last month, Cruz has been toughening his stand, which the addition of King to his campaign is helping to demonstrate.