Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz Spar Over Who's Tougher on Illegal Immigration

PHOTO: (L-R) Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz speak during Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, Nov. 10, 2015. PlayMorry Gash/AP Photo | Jeffrey Phelps/AP Photo
WATCH Donald Trump Doubles Down on Immigration Plan

From Donald Trump's call for a "deportation force" to Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz sparring over their immigration records, the war over who is tougher on illegal immigration is raging in the GOP presidential field.

At a campaign stop in Hilton Head, South Carolina, today, Sen. Rubio responded to Trump's call that he would create a deportation force similar to what Dwight Eisenhower used in the 1950s to deport a million undocumented immigrants.

"There are deportations in America now and there are people that are going to have to be deported. Criminals will be deported," Rubio said. "People that have not been here long enough will be deported. We’re going to enforce our immigration laws. That being said, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say you’re gonna round up and deport 11 million people."

During his speech to the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, Rubio went further in discussing how he might handle the issue of illegal immigration.

"I think the American people are going to be very reasonable about what you do with someone who’s been here 10, 15 years, is not otherwise a criminal, learns English, pays, starts paying taxes, is willing to pay a fine for having violated the law and only wants a work permit for the next decade or so, I think people will be reasonable about that," Rubio said.

Rubio also defended against claims that he is pro-amnesty and offered a jab at his rival in the presidential race, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"If you look at it I don’t think our positions are dramatically different,” Rubio said. "Ted is a supporter of legalizing people that are here in this country illegally. In fact, when the Senate bill was proposed, he proposed legalizing people that were here illegally, he proposed giving them more permits."

Rubio was referring to the immigration reform bill he helped coauthor in 2013. The "Gang of Eight" bill, nicknamed for the bipartisan group of legislators who supported it, never passed. Cruz opposed the bill and has said frequently on the campaign trail that he led the fight against it.

Both Rubio and Cruz are finding themselves close to one another in polls with political insiders frequently suggesting that the GOP race might come down to the two first-term senators. Before jabbing at Cruz, Rubio said the two men are friends.

"We have a lot in common obviously both in our background, and obviously have the same job, and share almost all the same views on many issues," he said.

In an interview with Laura Ingraham, Cruz addressed Rubio's stance on illegal immigration and attempted to distinguish himself from the Florida senator.

"My reaction in all of politics is talk is cheap, that you know where someone is based on their actions. You know, as the scripture says, you will know them by their fruits," Cruz said. "And so look I got to say as a voter, when politicians say things the exact opposite of what they’ve done in office, I’d treat that with a pretty healthy degree of skepticism."

Cruz also brought up the 2013 "Gang of Eight" immigration bill and criticized Rubio for opposing Republican amendments offered to the bill, including ones that Cruz offered.

"He opposed every single one of them. Every single amendment," Cruz told Ingraham.

Rubio’s campaign, along with the campaign of Rick Santorum, brought up those proposed amendments to the 2013 immigration bill too, offering them up as proof that Cruz isn't as tough on immigration as he says he is. A member of Rubio's campaign team and presidential candidate Rick Santorum's campaign have been tweeting videos of Cruz from 2013 proposing amendments to the "Gang of Eight” bill. Among those amendments was a proposal that those who are given legal status not be allowed to obtain citizenship and a second that proposed increasing the number of H1B visas -- visas given to highly skilled workers. The Rubio and Santorum camps are attempting to paint Cruz as having been OK with giving legal status to undocumented immigrants.

"Senator Cruz exposed the "Gang of Eight" bill for what it truly was: an amnesty bill," an aide to the Cruz campaign told ABC News. "Because he debated the bill the way he did, the House ended up not taking up amnesty and amnesty never passed Congress and he turned the tables on the Democrats to make immigration a positive issue for Republicans in 2014. We took over the Senate and won a historical majority in the House."

In his radio interview with Ingraham, Cruz defended his proposed amendments from 2013 and acknowledged that he has changed his thinking regarding H1B visas.

"First of all, it’s important to understand on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was leading the fight along with Jeff Sessions to defeat this bill, the 'Gang of Eight' bill and as a result, I was introducing a whole series of amendments in part to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Democrats," Cruz said.

"It is a common strategy in Congress to present amendments that force certain members to take tough positions on issues. That’s exactly what Senator Cruz was doing," said the Cruz aide.

Regarding H1B visas, Cruz told Ingraham that he would no longer support increasing the number of foreign workers given H1B visas.

"You know the H1B program as it was designed was supposed to bring in very high skilled workers -- to bring in computer scientists, people with Ph.D.s in electrical engineering. People would could start businesses and create jobs and produce economic growth. And if it were operating to do that, I think that is a good idea for the economy, but we’re seeing report after report after report of companies not bringing in high skilled workers but bringing in people with college degrees, sometimes from the diploma mills and bringing them into lay off American workers and forcing the American workers to train the people they’re bringing in. That is illegal. That is wrong and in fact, I am working very, very closely with Jeff Sessions on introducing legislation to fundamentally reform the H1B program, to prevent these abuses," Cruz said.

While Cruz appeared to be the target of Santorum and Rubio today, Kentucky senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul took aim at Rubio. Paul attempted to show Rubio's weakness on immigration by discussing Rubio's tax plan and its call for a child tax credit.

In a radio interview with Laura Ingraham, Paul said the proposed child tax credit would “explode payments to illegal aliens.” He also said that the tax credit is “bigger than all the money we spend on the veterans.”

"You have these tax credits that Marco supports. There’s a 25 percent fraud rate. In fact, the inspector general said that 4 billion dollars of the current tax credits are going to illegal aliens. I think Rubio’s plan would explode payments to illegal aliens and I think that’s a real problem. Until we fix the current tax credit, do we really want to double and triple the amount of tax credits we’re giving. I mean really, 4 billion dollars to illegal aliens,” Paul told Ingraham.