DALLAS, Texas – The first of three U.S. Senate campaign debates allowed Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke to contrast their sharply different viewers on Dreamers. 

The debate was held at SMU University and was sponsored by NBC 5 and the Dallas Morning News. The moderators were Julie Fine, political reporter for NBC 5, and Gromer M. Jeffers, political reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

O’Rourke, who hails from El Paso, drew the first question. It was about Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were young. 

Question from Julie Fine:

You said last week, Representative, that you want citizenship for Dreamers today. And yet others who have applied to come to America continue to wait. Senator Cruz has said he doesn’t support a path to citizenship for Dreamers, which means they could be sent back to a country they’ve never known. Who is right, Representative?

Representative O’Rourke:

My wife Amy and I were in Booker, Texas. We have traveled to each of the 254 counties. One of the reddest communities in the state. We were surprised as we were going door to door to hear that the No. 1 concern from people in that community was the fate of Dreamers.

There are nearly 200,000 in the state of Texas. And this valedictorian from Booker High School had just been deported to his country of origin. Everyone there was concerned about his welfare. But they were also concerned about the fact that he had just been sent back to a country whose language he didn’t speak, where he no longer had family connections, where, if he was successful against those long odds, he’d be successful there for that place and not here for Texas.

There is no better people than those of us in this state, Republicans and Democrats, Independents, alike, the defining border experience, the defining immigrant experience and state to rewrite our immigration laws in our own image. And to ensure that we begin by freeing Dreamers from the fear of deportation, by making them U.S. citizens, so they can contribute to their full potential, to the success not just of themselves and their families but to this country. 

The economists who have studied it have said that we will lose hundreds of billions of dollars to the negative if we deport them; we will gain hundreds of billions to the positive if we keep them here. Senator Cruz has promised to deport each and every single Dreamer. That cannot be the way that Texas leads on this important issue.

Senator Cruz:

You know, this issue presents a sharp divide between Congressman O’Rourke and me. My views on immigration are simple and I have summed them up many times in just four words: Legal, Good; Illegal, Bad. I think the vast majority of Texans agree with that. I think when it comes to immigration, we need to do everything humanly possible to secure the border. That means building a wall, that means technology, that means infrastructure, that means boots on the ground. And we can do all of that and at the same time that we are welcoming and celebrating legal immigrants. They is a right way to come into this country. You get in line, you follow the rules, like my father did in 1957. When he came from Cuba, he fled oppression and he came to Texas, he came seeking freedom. 

We are a state and we are a nation built by immigrants. But it is striking that Congressman O’Rourke over and over and over again, his focus seems to be on fighting for illegal immigrants and forgetting the millions of Americans. You know, Americans are dreamers also. And granting U.S. citizenship to 12 million people who are here illegally I think is a serious mistake. I think Congressman O’Rourke is out of step with Texas on that. 

Representative O’Rourke:

I will tell you about being out of step with Texas. Senator Cruz has sponsored legislation that would have this country build a 2,000-mile wall, 30 feet high, at a cost of $30 billion and that wall will not be built on the international border between the United States and Mexico, which is the center line of the Rio Grande. It will be built on someone’s farm, someone’s ranch, someone’s property, someone’s homestead. Using the power of eminent domain to take their property in a time of record security and safety on the border.

Senator John Cornyn and I introduced legislation that would invest in our ports of entry, where the vast majority of everyone and everything that comes into this country first crosses. Knowing who and what comes in here makes us safer and allows us to lead on the issues of immigration reform.

Follow Up from Julie Fine:

Representative, a quick follow-up for you. You have addressed the Dreamers. Do you think anyone who is undocumented and living here should have a path to citizenship.

Representative O’Rourke:

There are millions of people in this country who are working the toughest jobs. We were in Roscoe, at a cotton gin with 24 jobs. Every single one of them worked by someone who came to this country. Not a person born in Roscoe or nearby Sweetwater willing to do that work. That is the story of Texas and of this country. We need to bring people out of the shadows and allow them to get right by law and yes, there should be an earned path to citizenship. The alternative, as Senator Cruz has proposed, is to deport 11 million people from this county. Imagine the cost, imagine the stain on our conscience going forward for the generations who look back at this moment.