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PolitiFact: Cortez Masto wrong in calling opponent, Trump 'ideological soulmates' on immigration

Posted at 4:16 PM, Aug 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-02 23:56:13-04

National and state Democrats are trying to tie Nevada Republican Senate candidate Joe Heck to the controversial immigration policies of Donald Trump, including Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto.

In a recent news release, Cortez Masto’s campaign called the two Republicans "ideological soulmates."

"Just on the issue of immigration alone, it is next to impossible to find a policy difference between Trump and Congressman Heck," stated Cortez Masto’s release.

With immigration being a top concern for Nevada’s sizable Hispanic population, we thought it was worth comparing the two candidates to see if it really is "next to impossible" to find a policy difference.


On the surface level, there are many policy differences on immigration between Heck and Trump.

Trump’s immigration platform is detailed on his campaign website, and centers around three topics previously distilled by PolitiFact:

  • Build a border wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, and require Mexico to make a one-time $5 billion to $10 billion payment to pay for it.

  • Increase enforcement of immigration laws, including ending birthright citizenship and ending funding for so-called sanctuary cities.

  • Focus on American workers, including halting green cards for foreign workers until more domestic workers are hired and increasing the minimum prevailing wage for H-1B visa program recipients.

Heck’s campaign and Housewebsites acknowledge a "broken" immigration system but focus on different policy solutions. While echoing Trump in calling for implementing a mandatory E-verify system for employers and calling for increased border security, Heck says he’s open to granting citizenship or legal status to people not legally in the country if his other proposals are addressed in a "meaningful" way.

Both campaigns sent lengthy responses to PolitiFact. One thing is clear: There is daylight between Heck and Trump on a number of immigration policies.

Birthright citizenship

Democrats claim Heck and Trump share identical positions on wanting to "end birthright citizenship and repeal the 14th Amendment."

It’s true both Republicans have mentioned re-examining the concept of jus soli — extending citizenship based on place of birth, not parental nationality — but Heck and Trump differ on rhetoric.

Trump explicitly calls for an end to the policy, calling it the "biggest magnet for illegal immigration." (He also cites Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s 1993 bill "clarifying" the concept, though Reid later called it the "low point" of his legislative career.)

Heck has also called for a similar re-examination of the policy, but in a less direct tone.

His most pointed comments came in 2012, where atracker captured Heck saying he supported changing the concept.

"My personal opinion is that if you’re gonna be a citizen – be considered a citizen – you should be born to at least one parent that’s a U.S. citizen," he said at the time.

Heck generally hasn’t gone as far since then, most recently telling a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter that "it needs to be part of the discussion" but stopping short of a full endorsement.

Legal scholars generally agree that birthright citizenship is on solid constitutional ground, but several believe it would only take a congressional act to "clarify" citizenship for children born of people not legally in the United States, and point out that the court has never fully adjudicated the issue.

2013 immigration bill

Cortez Masto says Heck and Trump both opposed the 2013 bipartisan immigration legislation, commonly referred to as the "Gang of Eight" bill. That glosses over important parts of the story.

In 2013, Heck described the legislation as having positives and negatives but ultimately said he’d vote against the Senate bill as written, pointing to concerns over border security and wanting to toughen the education requirements for the children of people not legally in the country looking to apply for citizenship.

The bill never received a House vote, but Heck still took independent action on the immigration bill. The Republican worked on draft legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for people illegally brought into the country as children and publicly criticized House leadership in 2013 for failing to vote on any immigration legislation.

Trump, on the other hand, told Bloomberg that he only really started following the immigration debate since he started running for president in 2015. "When I made my (announcement) speech at Trump Tower, the June 16 speech, I didn’t know about the Gang of Eight. … I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess," he said in May.

This is contradicted by several tweets and interviews Trump did in 2013, calling the legislation a "death wish" for the Republican Party. Trump later criticized primary rival Marco Rubio’s involvement in the legislation, calling it "nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties."


One of Heck’s most notable forays into the immigration debate was a failed attempt to bring forward a Republican version of the long-languishing Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Heck worked for around six months to try to find a compromise path supported by both parties, businesses and immigration activists before trying to roll out the measure in December 2013.

Heck’s version of the legislation, which had a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought unlawfully into the country as children, fell flat after immigration activists and several other stakeholders declined to back the proposal over concerns that it only addressed part of the problem and wanted to hold out for a more comprehensive immigration plan.

Additionally, Heck has voted against funding for Obama’s executive orders allowing undocumented children and their parents to receive work permits and exemptions from deportation. He’s on the record voting for several amendments that would strip the program’s funding and voted in 2015 to block funding for an expansion of the program while joining with 25 other House Republicans to support the existing program.

In the past, Heck has tried to frame his mixed voting record on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in terms of his stated opposition to the president’s use of executive orders establishing the programs.

Trump is clearly opposed to the issue, and in 2015 called for the full rescission of executive orders protecting DREAMers from deportation, as well as the mass deportation of the roughly 11 million people not legally in the country. He’s also publicly opposed the DREAM Act itself.

Heck has routinely called Trump’s proposals unrealistic.

"I don’t think they can find, round up and afford to deport 11 million people," he told reporters in March.

The wall/border security

Heck also differs on Trump’s signature piece of immigration policy — building a massive border wall with Mexico.

The Heck campaign provided PolitiFact with a form letter sent to constituents who ask about the proposed border wall. The letter stresses Heck’s commitment to border security while gently dismissing Trump’s plan for a massive, thousand-mile concrete wall as being inefficient.

"Physical barriers are certainly effective in areas with high cross-border traffic; however, there are vast stretches of our border that have relatively few crossings, and preventing these crossings could be more easily achieved through other methods," he says in the letter.

Part of Heck’s stated reasoning for opposing the 2013 immigration bill had to do with border security — the Republican specifically called for additional border fencing and for more manpower along the border to stop illegal crossings.

H1-B visas

Trump and Heck also differ on what to do with temporary H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers.

Trump’s plan explicitly calls to increase the minimum prevailing wage (an averaged wage paid to workers in a similar field) for H1-B recipients over fears that the program depresses wages for American workers. It also makes an unspecified point of forcing companies to hire American workers before foreign workers in the visa program.

Heck’s campaign provided PolitiFact with a form letter sent to voters who ask about limiting the visas, which details Heck’s concerns that scaling back the program could hurt economic growth.

"By restricting H-1B visas, growth in the U.S. in STEM fields could be restricted," Heck says in the letter.

Sanctuary cities

Another area of immigration policy overlap for Trump and Heck is in defunding so-called "sanctuary cities," or areas where local law enforcement doesn’t routinely report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities.

There’s no agreed-upon or legal definition of a "sanctuary city" and use of the moniker is somewhat fluid.

Trump seized the issue after the shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco last year by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times, and has forcefully called for cutting off federal grants to cities that refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement.

While he hasn’t been as vocal as Trump, Heck did vote to block federal law enforcement funds from sanctuary cities as part of a House bill in July 2015. The White House promised to veto the measure, which has defeated in a procedural vote by Senate Democrats.

Our ruling

Cortez Masto claims that "on the issue of immigration alone, it is next to impossible to find a policy difference between (Donald) Trump and Congressman (Joe) Heck."

There are areas where Heck and Trump overlap on immigration policy: mandatory E-verify for employers, upping border security and questioning birthright citizenship.

However, Cortez Masto made it sound like Heck and Trump are lockstep on the issue, and that's clearly not the case.

There are major stated policy differences between the two Republicans — Heck opposes mass deportation, which Trump campaigned on during the primary season. And Heck has supported a pathway to citizenship for people not legally in the country, as well as supported a version of the DREAM Act.

It wasn't "next to impossible" to find those differences. We rate this statement False.