On Friday afternoon, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) released an immigration plan. The plan is arguably more similar to Donald Trump’s plan, released this August (and which Donald Trump himself seems to have forgotten), than to Cruz’s own position from past years.
In 2013, Cruz wanted to expand legal immigration, and proposed an amendment — which Cruz allies now claim didn’t represent his actual position — to legalize unauthorized immigrants currently in the US without allowing them to become US citizens. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants to freeze legal immigration, make it much harder to get visas for high-skilled workers, and increase deportations.
And while he doesn’t explicitly say this, his plan includes all the elements of past policy proposals for “attrition through enforcement” — the policy agenda known as self-deportation.
Cruz wants to make it much harder for employers to hire foreign workers
In 2013, Cruz opposed the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill that Marco Rubio helped write. At the time, Cruz made it clear that he opposed unauthorized immigration but supported legal immigration. He voted against amendments from Sen. Jeff Sessions to reduce legal immigration and actuallyintroduced an amendment to make the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers five times bigger. And even during the speech unveiling his immigration plan, Cruz called for the US to focus on skilled workers such as doctors.
But he appears to be worried that the Republican base voters he’s hoping to win away from Donald Trump are just as worried about legal immigrants taking their jobs as they are about unauthorized immigration. (He’s probably right.) So his plan actually calls for a freeze on legal immigration levels — and it specifically targets the H-1B visa program.
Cruz’ plan would “suspend the issuance of all H-1B visas for 180 days” while investigating the program. (Since new batches of H-1B visas get issued twice a year, and they typically run out within hours, this could be timed so that it didn’t actually disrupt any visa issuances — but it would be tricky.) The H-1B visas will only start being issued again after his administration has made “fundamental reforms” to the program.
Cruz justifies the visa freeze by saying the government needs to investigate allegations of abuse in the visa program. There have, in fact, been increased reports that some of the heaviest users of the system are using H-1B workers to replace American workers. But those reports involve employers breaking the existing federal rules for hiring high-skilled immigrant workers. Cruz’s “fundamental reforms” — which aren’t included in his written plan but which he mentioned in his speech — include a requirement that visa holders have a PhD-level degree (preferably from an American university); a ban on firing American workers for a certain amount of time after H-1B workers are hired; and a requirement that employers sign sworn affidavits that they’ve tried to hire American workers first.
Cruz wants a freeze on legal immigration
Cruz also wants to freeze legal immigration levels across the board “as long as work-force participation rates are below historical averages.” How high a bar that sets depends on how you define “historical”: If you go back to the 1950s, the current labor force participation rate is on par with the historical average. Since Cruz doesn’t think that’s the case right now, it appears he’s setting the bar a little higher.
Technically, he wants to prevent legal immigration levels from being “adjusted upward.” That could just mean that he wouldn’t let Congress raise quotas in the law. But if he means he would freeze the number of applications that the federal government could approve to come legally each year, it could have a pretty big impact.