Why Ted Cruz Is Holding Out on Immigration Reform

PHOTO: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas walks through the Capitol complex in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013, after his attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act was defeated during a flurry of votes on amendments to the budget resolution.

A bevy of Republican officials have come out in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform plan being debated on Capitol Hill, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn't one of them.

Popular Tea Party conservative figures, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are backing a plan that would allow up to 11 million undocumented immigrants to earn their way to citizenship. That has given a burst of political momentum for comprehensive reform, which has long been stalled in Congress.

See Also: 5 GOPers Who've Had an Immigration Conversion

But Cruz so far has not budged from his opposition to an earned path to citizenship, on the grounds that it's tantamount to amnesty.

"I've got deep concerns about is any path to citizenship for those who are here illegally," he said on Sean Hannity's Fox News program on Monday night. "I think that is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who have followed the rules, who have waited in line."

Cruz has long said that he believes President Obama is insincere about his desire to see immigration reform pass, believing that he's using it as a political cudgel to trap Republicans who are seeking a way to make inroads with Latino voters.

"I think the reason that President Obama is insisting on a path to citizenship is that it is designed to be a poison pill to scuttle the whole bill, so he can have a political issue in 2014 and 2016," he said. "I think that's really unfortunate."

Elected just last November, Cruz has quickly become an influential conservative voice in Congress and he has already attracted 2016 presidential buzz. Latino groups have also closely watched how Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant father and one of two Hispanic Republicans in the Senate, handles the issue. His standing in the party has led immigration-reform proponents to covet his support for a reform package.

Reform backers believe Cruz -- and his fellow Tea Party holdout in the Senate, Mike Lee (Utah) -- could prove to be a linchpin for wooing more Republican votes, which would greatly improve an immigration reform bill's chances of passage.

"I think it's really important for the Tea Party movement, and conservatives in general, for them to be in lockstep on this issue," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which has worked to attract conservative support for immigration reform.

Despite Cruz's staunch opposition to a path to citizenship, Noorani believes Cruz could eventually be convinced to support a bill that would permit undocumented immigrants to seek citizenship. But such a pathway would need to come with pre-conditions, including additional immigration enforcement measures, and a guarantee that the undocumented are not given special preference over other immigrants seeking green cards.

Cruz backs expanding legal immigration, in addition to beefed-up border security and interior enforcement measures.

"I don't get the sense that he is entrenched. I get the sense he is looking to fit his values and his beliefs," Noorani said. "And I think the way the legislation is coming together, it's not going to be a long step for getting Ted Cruz on board."

But it might not be that easy for pro-immigration reform advocates to change Cruz's mind.

The senator has displayed a consistent, rigid opposition to Obama's agenda. That was evident in his blistering criticism of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearings.

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