Cruz: 'We Need to Be a Nation That Welcomes and Celebrates Legal Immigrants'

By Susan Jones | April 8, 2014 | 6:46 AM EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (AP File Photo)

( - Sen. Ted Cruz says he's a "big fan" of his fellow Republican Jeb Bush, and he agrees with Bush that many immigrants come to the United States illegally because they are seeking a better life.

"And all of that is positive and beneficial. What isn't positive and beneficial is breaking the law to do so," Cruz told CNN's Jake Tapper on Monday.

"[I]n my view, we need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules and come here according to the law. That we're a nation of immigrants, we need to celebrate that. But at the same time, rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important."

Cruz talked about the "heartbreaking" situation in Texas, where women and children trying to get into the United States are assaulted by smugglers, then left to die in the desert.

"This is not a humane system," he said. "And we need to solve the problem to secure the borders, and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law."

Tapper had asked Cruz to comment on Jeb Bush's remark that American citizens shouldn't be so upset about people who come to this country illegally.

"Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony," Bush said on Sunday. "It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."

Tapper also asked Cruz about "Republican officials in Washington" who are looking at Chris Christie and Jeb Bush as possible presidential candidates in 2016.

"I do think that there are folks in Washington who want to pick the party's nominee, and they inevitably want to pick a nominee who they think won't rock the boat," Cruz said.

"And in my view, from the perspective of a Republican who believes we need to win and we need to win because the country is on the wrong path, because we're facing enormous fiscal and economic challenges, I think the only way Republicans win is to have a candidate with a strong conservative -- with a positive, hopeful, optimistic message. That's the path to victory.

"And I don't think Washington elites are going to be very effective picking the nominee. I think it's going to be, quite rightly, a decision for the grassroots to make."

Asked if Jeb Bush is a strong candidate, Cruz said that's a question for voters to answer.

"It's my hope everyone thinking of potentially running in 2016 will stand up and lead, will start making the argument, start effectively leading and making the case that we've got to get back to the free market principles, the constitutional liberties that have made our nation so strong."