Volunteer villain: How Ted Cruz's hard-line immigration stance helps Democrats

Ted Cruz becomes the face of anti-immigrant sentiment at the precise moment Democrats needed a political foil

Published July 17, 2014 6:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Jim Cole)
(AP/Jim Cole)

At some point the Democrats might want to consider sending Ted Cruz a nice fruit basket. Or perhaps a Chick-fil-A gift card. At the very least they owe him a thank-you note.

The party has been tripped up politically by the border crisis, and an issue that was once a sure-fire winner for Democrats – immigration – now has various factions within the party arguing over what to do with the tens of thousands of Central American children coming into the U.S. The Republicans were content to simply sit back and offer a light poke every now and again to keep the intra-party fighting alive. But now Ted Cruz has emerged to work his special brand of politics and make himself a lightning rod for a hard-line immigration position that is supported by conservatives, but is unpopular with everyone else.

Politico reported last night that Cruz will push to undo President Obama’s 2012 executive action to defer deportations for younger immigrants as part of any legislative fix for the border crisis. “Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said the senator’s ‘top priority’ is to end the deferred action program,” according to Politico, “noting that he is drafting a legislative proposal to prohibit the White House from broadening the policy.”

This is bonkers, both from a policy and a political standpoint. Policy-wise, Obama’s 2012 executive action has nothing to do with the current influx of immigrant minors. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program exempted from deportation immigrants who were brought into the country as children and have been in the U.S. since June 2007. Anyone arriving to the country now is not eligible, no matter their age. Undoing the program would have absolutely no impact on the current crisis.

What it would do, however, is screw over the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were approved through the program. A report released in June found that high percentages of DACA-approved immigrants were finding jobs, making more money, and obtaining driver’s licenses. Cruz is actively agitating for these people to be deported.

That gets to the terrible politics of Cruz’s move. The program hasn’t been polled in a while, but the last time anyone checked it was fairly popular. A November 2012 poll for America’s Voice found that 57 percent of voters approved of DACA, with a near-majority (46 percent) expressing “strong approval.” The only voters who were against it were Republicans, 45 percent of whom disapproved. Among Latinos, the program had a sky-high 77 percent approval rating.

So it’s really only conservatives and Republicans who want to see the program end. Cruz is hardly the first Republican to call for DACA’s termination – Darrell Issa circulated a letter last month arguing that “the very existence of the program contradicts present law and violates the Constitutional principle of a separation of powers.” But Cruz is one of the most high-profile and controversial Republicans in the country. And he’s a god-like figure to the Tea Party movement who has the ability to drag conservative Republicans in Congress along with him.

Cruz's insistence that legislation dealing with the crisis also end the DACA program is a non-starter -- the Democrats will never agree to it. So, as he did during the government shutdown, Cruz is creating the conditions for government paralysis in the face of a crisis.

Essentially, Cruz has volunteered to make himself the Republican face of anti-immigrant sentiment at a time when immigration is at the forefront of the public consciousness. And he did so at precisely the moment in which Democrats could really use a villain to rally around and get the political spotlight off themselves.

By Simon Maloy

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