KALONA, IA — On Tuesday morning, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz spoke to a crowd of Iowa voters from a small hotel in rural eastern Iowa. As he spoke, calling for tightening immigration enforcement and securing the borders, he stood in front of a wall painted with the words of Matthew 11:28 — “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Following his remarks, Roger Farmer, a Mennonite from eastern Iowa, asked Cruz to reconcile his support for deportation with those words from the Bible. “The Bible says we should welcome the stranger and the immigrant,” he said. “That verse on the wall behind you says a similar thing. Your policies seem to be in opposition to that.”
CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Cruz quickly tried to justify his policies in front of the largely religious audience.
“The fact that we lock our doors doesn’t mean we hate our next door neighbors,” he said, before going on to discuss his support for securing the borders and preventing undocumented immigrants from getting into the United States. Cruz also pointed out that he is the son of a “legal immigrant” and that we should continue to welcome legal immigrants.
“We are a loving, generous, welcoming country,” the Texas senator said.
But to Farmer, Cruz’s answer was not sufficient. Farmer has been fighting for immigration justice with “Friends of Pastor Max,” a group formed in support of Iowa City Mennonite Pastor Max Villatoro.
Villatoro was deported to Honduras earlier this year, leaving his wife and children behind in Iowa. The father of four was considered a “high priority” for deportation for a nearly two-decade-old drunk driving conviction. At the time, he received 25,000 signed petitions on his behalf.
“What happened to him didn’t make any sense to me and Mr. Cruz’s policies accentuate that and emphasize that,” Farmer said. “He encouraged legal immigration which is great, but he did not address what to do with people who are here not legally, and that’s one problem we have now. And so he didn’t address that. None of [the Republican candidates] do.”
During a video chat hosted by the immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice in June, Villatoro spoke about how hard it is to be separated from his family. “My life is there,” Villatoro said, having called Iowa his home for 20 years. “I’m a stranger here.”
Villatoro was targeted by law enforcement officials in March when they arrested more than 2,000 convicted criminal immigrants during a week-long raid. But nearly half of those people were individuals whose most serious crimes were misdemeanors. Some of those immigrants finished their criminal sentences years ago and have since turned their lives around.
Recognizing this, many cities have started refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities to deport immigrants, earning the name “sanctuary cities.” But Cruz claims that these cities are actually sheltering “murderers and rapists.”
When ThinkProgress asked him at a campaign stop in Keokuk, Iowa about his legislation to eliminate federal funding of those cities — given the fact that the crime rate is actually lower among immigrant populations than the general public and that sanctuary cities foster better relationships between law enforcement and the community — Cruz said that the government should “enforce the law.”
“The simple reality is we need to secure our borders and it doesn’t make sense to be allowing people into this country with criminal records who are violating the law,” he said. “In the year 2013, the Obama administration released into the public over 104,000 criminal illegal aliens. 196 of them were murderers. They were illegal aliens with homicide convictions. Nearly 400 of them had sexual assault convictions. If I’m elected president, the federal government will no longer be releasing murderers and rapists who are here illegally.”
He also called for the passage of Kate’s Law, introduced after 32-year-old Kate Steinle was killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco in July. Steinle’s death unfurled anti-immigrant sentiment against sanctuary cities and GOP candidates, most notably Donald Trump, have cited the tragedy to double down on calls to secure the border and to get rid of sanctuary cities.
“This beautiful young lady was murdered because of the unwillingness of politicians to enforce the law,” Cruz told ThinkProgress Tuesday. “That is not right, and if I’m elected president, it will end.”