Republican White House hopefuls Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz continued their feud over immigration on Thursday, with each accusing the other of intentionally misrepresenting their past views on how to handle undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.
While campaigning in Iowa, Rubio said that Cruz has “not told the truth about his position in the past on legalization and up until the other night at the debate, he had never said what he said.”
At nearly the same time in Nevada, Cruz was defending his opposition to allowing undocumented immigrants from staying in the country legally.
“I oppose amnesty. I oppose citizenship. I oppose legalization for illegal aliens,” Cruz told reporters. “I always have and I always will. And I challenge every other Republican candidate to say the same thing or if not, then to stop making silly assertions that their record and my record on immigration are the same.”
The Republican senators’ feud over immigration exploded during the fifth GOP presidential debate on Tuesday when Rubio, who supports potentially allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens, equated Cruz’s stance on immigration to his own.
At issue is an amendment Cruz offered to the 2013 immigration reform bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants a route to work permits and green cards, while also making them ineligible from ever gaining citizenship. The Texas senator has said the amendment was a “poison pill” meant to highlight the fact that Democrats weren’t open to compromise on a pathway to citizenship to get reform passed, even as they demanded compromise from Republicans on the bill.
“By revealing the truth, calling their bluff, we were able to mobilize and energize the American people and defeat it. And by the way what we've seen in the last 2 days, this is the establishment strikes back,” Cruz told reporters in Nevada. “We won that fight. We defeated amnesty and they are furious.”
Cruz has come under heavy fire for comments he made during Tuesday debate that “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.”
Rubio charged that Cruz's comment left him some “wiggle room” on the issue of legalization and said Cruz had hoped to “get through a primary without having to discuss” the issue, but “leave the option open” for future political advantage.
Legalization and citizenship for undocumented immigrants remain hot-button issues among conservatives, who believe both amount to “amnesty” for immigrants who broke the law to come to the U.S. But polling has shown a majority of Americans, including a majority of those in both parties, support some form of legalization for undocumented immigrants.
Rubio has embraced both, and in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, acknowledged his openness to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is not a popular stance in the GOP.
"I personally do not believe that it's good for America to have millions of people permanently living here who can never become Americans, who want to be Americans, who love America, but just can't become Americans," Rubio told NBC News' Hallie Jackson. "I personally don't think that's a good idea."