Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz wants to deport immigrants brought to the United States illegally when they were younger than 16 – even though this may be the only country they've ever known.

       “When it comes to immigration, we need to do everything humanly possible to secure the border,” Cruz said. “That means building the wall, that means technology, that means infrastructure, that means boots on the ground. We can do all that and at same time welcome and celebrate legal immigrants.”

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso opposes that blanket deportation. He's the Democratic candidate trying to upset Cruz's re-election effort.

O'Rourke said it makes sense to allow people "working the toughest jobs . . . to get right by the law, and . . . a path to citizenship.

"The alternative, as Senator Cruz has proposed, is to deport 11 million people from this country. Imagine the cost, imagine the stain on our conscience going forward for generations,” he said.

Cruz is "out of step with Texas," O'Rourke said. "Senator Cruz has sponsored legislation to have this country build a 2,000-mile wall, 30 feet high, at a cost of $30 billion,” – on private US property, taken by eminent domain.

That was part of the first of three Cruz-O'Rourke debates, held Friday ((9/21)) at Southern Methodist University Dallas.

It happens just as O'Rourke's non-stop statewide campaign, simulcast on social media, has caught national attention. He's out-raising Cruz in campaign donations, without taking PAC money, and running almost even in polls. The Cook Political Report has moved the race from "Leans Republican" to "Toss Up."

Cruz wants to follow through on President Donald Trump's 2017 order to rescind the hold on deportation ordered by his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama. But federal courts have stalled enforcement of Trump's order.

Repeated efforts in Congress to set up a path to citizenship for the so-called "Dreamers" – under the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) – have fizzled.

The two men continued the debate of their views -- quizzed by moderators Gromer Jeffers of the Dallas News and Julie Fine of Metroplex state NBC5.

As the final question, Fine sought to end upbeat.

 “We'd like to end this for both of you on a very positive note,” Fine said. “We'd like to ask you to tell us something you admire about your opponent.”

       O'Rourke went first. He said he and Cruz both were elected to Congress in 2012.

“We both have young children. I know how hard he works. I know how much time he has spent away from his kids. I know what a sacrifice that is to his family,” O'Rourke said. “I know that he's doing it for one reason. He wants to serve this country, and he's trying to do his best.

 “We may have differences of opinion on what our destination might be and how we're going to get there," O'Rourke said, "but I have no question that Senator Cruz wants to do the best for America and he does so at great sacrifice to his family and to his kids. So I thank you, Senator Cruz, for your public service.”

Cruz returned the compliment, and the sentiment -- for a while.

“I would express the very same sentiments back at Congressman O'Rourke,” Cruz said. “You're right. Being a dad of young kids is hard. I know the sacrifice you're putting in. My girls every day, when I leave for the campaign trail, it's hard. There are a lot of tears in the Cruz household. I'm sure there are in the O'Rourke household, too. That is the single hardest part of doing this.”

Then, as is his style, Cruz fashioned his next "compliment" into a weapon.

        “Look, I think Congressman O'Rourke is passionate. He is energetic. He believes in what he's fighting for." Okay . . . so far.

"You know, last year I did three debates with Bernie Sanders, and I expressed this at all three debates, that Bernie Sanders believes in what he's fighting for. He believes in socialism,“ Cruz said.

"Now, I think what he's fighting for doesn't work," Cruz continued. "But I think you are absolutely sincere like Bernie, that you believe in expanding government and higher taxes, and I commend you for fighting for what you believe in. You noted we disagree on the outcome, but you're fighting for the principles you believe in, and I respect that.”

       O'Rourke, almost with regret, responded with the best three words of the night.

       “True to form,” he said.

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If you wish to watch the debate online, go to the Texas Tribune website:

       The next twp debates are Sunday, Sept. 30 in Houston, and Tuesday, Oct. 16 in San Antonio.

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       Voter Registration Deadline. . . . is Tuesday, Oct. 9. Early voting starts Oct. 22.