In a recent column about Republican presidential candidates' increasingly tough rhetoric on immigration, I said Ted Cruz "does not go quite as far" as Donald Trump, who has promised mass deportation in addition to a border wall. Cruz seems determined to close that distance. In a Fox News interview with Bill O'Reilly last night, the Texas senator insisted he would track down unauthorized immigrants and send them packing:
O'Reilly: [There are] 12 million illegal aliens here in America. Mr. Trump says he would deport them forcibly. The federal authorities would round them up and send them back home. It costs a lot of money, but he says it's worth it, because we just can't allow the law to be broken this way. Would you round up 12 million illegal aliens here, and if so how?
Cruz: Listen, we should enforce the law. How do we enforce the law? Yes, we should deport them. We should build a wall, we should triple the Border Patrol, and federal law requires that anyone here illegally that's apprehended should be deported.
O'Reilly: Mr. Trump would look for them to get them out. Would you do that if you were president?
Cruz: Bill, of course you would. That's what ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] exists for. We have law enforcement that looks for people who are violating the law, apprehends them, and deports them.
Presumably the promise to round up and expel millions of people who are living and working in the United States without official permission is not part of Cruz's new appeal to libertarian-leaning Republicans. It is instead aimed at primary voters who are attracted by Trump's wall-building nativism. But since mass deportation is not popular even among Republicans, let alone the general public, Cruz runs the risk of alienating voters the GOP nominee will need to win the general election.
The polling firm Latino Decisions calculates that the Republican presidential nominee will need at least 42 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the election this year. Mitt Romney, who said he would encourage "self-deportation" by making economic conditions intolerable for unauthorized immigrants, won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, down from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. It's hard to imagine that a candidate pushing mass deportation at gunpoint will do any better.