- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2015

Sparks flew Friday between Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over the issue of immigration, as the rival 2016 GOP presidential candidates sought to convince voters that they are on the right side of a thorny issue that has become a litmus test for many voters.

Speaking on the Mike Gallagher show in the morning, Mr. Cruzsaid that Mr. Rubio’s attempts to cast their immigration records as similar in light made him “laugh out loud” and are “blazingly” false.

Both senators are sons of Cuban immigrants.

The Rubio camp pushed back in the afternoon, releasing a statement in which the freshman lawmaker claimed Mr. Cruz has flip-flopped on legalization and was for legalizing illegal immigrants before he was against it.

“I’m puzzled and quite frankly surprised by Ted’s attacks, since Ted’s position on immigration is not much different than mine,” Mr. Rubio said. “He is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally.

“If he’s changed that position, then he certainly has a right to change his position on that issue, but he should be clear about that,” he said.

Immigration has been thrust to the forefront of the presidential campaign thanks in large part to Donald Trump’s calls for more border fencing, mass deportations and ending the policy of birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

The issue has divided the field and resonated strongly with the grassroots activists who traditionally provide the ground troops for candidates in the key early caucus and primary states.

Seeking to distance himself from Mr. Rubio, Mr. Cruz stressed Friday that he and Mr. Rubio lined up on opposite sides of the 2013 battle over immigration.

Mr. Cruz said he led the fight against the bill, while Mr. Rubio helped usher it through the Senate on a 68-32 vote, where 14 Republicans teamed up with all 54 Democratic caucus members.

The bill that would have proved quick legalization for illegal immigrants as well as an eventual pathway to citizenship.

“Yesterday, Marco had a fairly remarkable comment in that he suggested that my record was exactly like his on immigration — and I laughed out loud at that,” Mr. Cruz said. “Marco is a friend, but that statement was truly stunning.”

“I mean, that’s like Obama saying my position is the same as his on Obamacare,” he said. “That is like the Ayatollah Khomeini saying my position is the same as his on the Iranian nuclear deal. It is laughingly, blazingly, on its face false.”

The previous day Mr. Rubio claimed that “Ted is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally” and pointed out how “he supported a massive expansion of the H-1B program, a 500 percent increase.”

Indeed, Mr. Cruz pushed amendments to the 2013 bill that would have expanded legal immigration, putting him at odds with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has argued for a 25 percent decrease in legal immigration, and Mr. Trump, who has suggested that limits on future legal immigration could help American workers.

Mr. Cruz, though, voted against the immigration bill.

The issue of immigration has become a clear dividing line in the 2016 GOP race, and Mr. Cruz warned in this week’s debate that the issue could make or break the party’s chances of flipping control of the White House next year.

“If Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose,” Mr. Cruz said.

The tea party favorites drove home a similar message on Friday by arguing that the battle over the 2013 immigration bill was a telling moment for Republicans — including Mr. Rubio.

“When Chuck Schumer, and Harry Reid and Barack Obama joined with a handful of establishment Republicans to push the massive ‘Gang of Eight’ bill, that was a moment where everyone decided, ‘What side do you stand on? Where are you?’ “

“It was a gut check moment,” Mr. Cruz said. “It was a moment that revealed exactly what someone believes.”

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