Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finally confronted their respective stance on immigration, with each accusing the other senator of providing legalization or amnesty.

Rubio was asked if he still supports the 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744), which included provisions for border fencing, more border patrol agents and a path to citizenship. Rubio was part of the so-called "gang of eight," a bipartisan group of senators that cosponsored the bill. Although S. 744 passed the Senate, it was never picked up in the House of Representatives for debate.

Rubio explained immigration is an issue he's lived with throughout his life, noting his parents are Cuban immigrants. He said nothing can be done on immigration unless the federal government proves to the American people that it can prove illegal immigration is under control. Rubio added that the steps to prove it includes 20,000 more border agents, 700-mile fencing and mandatory e-verify system and entry-exit tracking system to prevent visa overstays. Next, according to Rubio, is to reform the current legal immigration process. Afterwards, Rubio claimed the American people will become reasonable to address how to deal with immigrants who have been in the U.S. for 10-12 years.

Rubio said after the 10-12 years, immigrants, who have not further violated U.S. laws, may pay a fine, a background check, pay taxes and then receive a work permit. After another 10 years, immigrants with work permits may receive a green card.

"And that was the lesson we learned in 2013: there is no trust that the federal government will enforce the law, they (Americans) will not support you until they see it done first," said Rubio.

Cruz, who opposes a pathway to citizenship, said Rubio's support of the 2013 immigration bill showed that he sided with President Barack Obama and New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer "to support a massive amnesty plan." Cruz also related Rubio's effort on S. 744 to the threat of the Islamic State militant group.

"Border security is national security, and you know one of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees, without mandating any background checks whatsoever," said Cruz.

"Now, we've seen what happened in San Bernardino. When you're letting people in, when the FBI can't vet them, it puts American citizens at risk. And I tell you, if I'm elected president, we will secure the border, we will triple the border patrol, we will build a wall that works, and I'll get Donald Trump to pay for it," added Cruz.

Rubio said he's puzzled with Cruz's immigration stance, criticizing the Texas senator for supporting an increase for H-1B visas and doubling the number of green cards. Cruz accused Rubio of raising "confusion," and he led the fight against Rubio's bill.

"Will you rule it out?" Rubio asked, if Cruz supports eventually legalizing immigration.

"I've never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization," replied Cruz.

Earlier, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky also swiped Rubio for siding with Democrats on border security.

"He is the one for an open border that is leaving us defenseless. Marco has more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy," said Paul.

Rubio said he voted against Paul's Senate bill that discriminated against tourist individuals.

On Twitter, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz tagged Rubio and wrote that offering green cards is not a pathway to citizenship.

The debate, however, first addressed Muslim immigration, specifically Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily pause Muslim immigration into the U.S. Trump said he is not an isolationist or against a religion but wanted to focus on security.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, "This is not a serious proposal. In fact it would push the Muslim world - the Arab world -- away from us at a when we time we need to reengage with them to be able to create a strategy to destroy ISIS. Donald is great at the one-liners but he's a chaos candidate and he be a chaos president. He would not be the commander in chief to keep our country safe."

Trump also said he will not consider an independent bid for the White House if at some point he abandons the Republican Party's nomination process.


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