KEENE, NH — On the campaign trail in both Iowa and New Hampshire — states thousands of miles from Mexico — Ted Cruz loves to talk about the border.
He repeats in his standard speech, town after town, that he will “finally secure the borders and end sanctuary cities.” It’s a big applause line for the conservatives of both states who support Cruz because of his tough stance on immigration.
But Donald Trump, who has recently escalated his attacks on Cruz, is accusing his closest competitor of not being tough enough.
Trump released an ad on Friday calling Cruz “pro-amnesty,” or in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States unpunished. Cruz fired back, saying in an interview that Trump’s immigration plan is the one that amounts to amnesty.
The constant back and forth on immigration has put the issue at the forefront of voters’ minds. New Hampshire voters told ThinkProgress they support Cruz chiefly because of his willingness to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Gary Chandler, a Swanzey, NH resident who came to a Cruz meet and greet at a local diner on Monday, said immigration is the “number one issue” he and his wife are concerned about this election.
“I just feel it’s ruined the country because they’re coming in, taking SSDI, taking a lot of benefits from people who have paid into the system,” he said about undocumented immigrants. “There’s not as many people working and the ratio just keeps coming less and less.”
But undocumented immigrants actually pay into the system because those who work or have qualified for President Obama’s executive actions contribute Social Security taxes but receive no benefits in return. Studies have also shown that immigrants actually create jobs for American workers — each new immigrant has produced about 1.2 new jobs in the U.S.
George Quill, a 17-year-old student who attended the event in Keene, also pointed to Cruz’s immigration policies as the reason he supports the candidate.
“He’s for taking a harder stance on the illegal immigrants that we have, and I’m on board with him on that,” he said. “I think that if they’re not here legally, then they shouldn’t be here at all.”
Quill conceded that he doesn’t have much experience with undocumented immigrants in New Hampshire — a state with a small immigrant population — but said the issue is still important to him.
“It affects the country as a whole since Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials released a statement saying that 60 percent of illegal immigrants do have criminal priors in Mexico, so I think it affects the country as a whole,” he said, citing false statistics about the criminal records of immigrants detained by ICE.
Not everyone Cruz meets on the campaign trail is completely on board with his harsh immigration policies. In Plymouth, NH, a family of Cuban American voters attended Cruz’s meet and greet. Though Carolina Marquez-Sterling said she supports the senator, she told ThinkProgress that immigration is “not one of my favorite topics.”
“It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Cuban,” she said. “It has to do with the fact that these people are here and we have to figure out a way that’s humane in how to deal with it. I don’t like that they’re here and they broke our laws. They are illegal and I don’t have any problem calling them illegal because that’s what they are.”
The Cruz and Trump debate over who supports undocumented immigration has been ongoing for weeks, although it has escalated in the days ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Despite what they may say in their attacks, neither candidate’s immigration policies come even close to granting amnesty.
And in some respects, Cruz’s immigration proposals are even more extreme than those of Trump, a man who has said that Mexican immigrants are rapists, criminals, and drug dealers and who has declared that Mexico will pay for the construction of a border wall.
While Trump has said he would deport all undocumented immigrants but allow the “really good people” to move back to the United States, Cruz has said that he would support deporting the country’s 11.3 million undocumented immigrants without ever giving them a chance to come back to the country. And Cruz wouldn’t just build the border wall with Mexico that Trump has promised — he would also hire Trump to do it.