Cruz's plan calls for curbs on legal immigration by halting any increases in the number of people coming to the United States legally until the economy improves and temporarily stopping the issuance of visas for high-tech workers because of reported abuses in the program.
The policy proposals are a shift for Cruz, who in 2013 supported doubling the caps on green cards and increasing the number of the visas for high tech workers - known as H1-B visas - fivefold.
"It's legal good, illegal bad," Cruz, speaking at a megachurch here, said about the immigration system. "Why is that so complicated for anyone in Washington to understand?"
Cruz said he would "halt increases in legal immigration so long as American unemployment remains unacceptably high," but didn't say what the threshold would be for allowing more people to enter the country. His plan had a noticeable absence: what he would do with the 11 million people in the country illegally.
"Consistently the approach of the Democrats and the media is to focus on the people who here illegally," he told reporters, but did not state what he would do.
Cruz is calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration, proposing an increase in deportations. He wants to triple the number of Border Patrol agents, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and increase surveillance there. He also wants to end birthright citizenship - the process by which any baby born in the United States is granted citizenship, regardless of legal status of his or her parents.
He tied allowing undocumented immigrants to get citizenship to a number of things, both foreign and abroad, and said they are why Democrats support immigration reform.
"If you are supporting amnesty you are supporting the Ayatollah Khamenei having nuclear weapons in Iran," Cruz said.
He said it would also cause Florida to have Democratic governors for "as far as the eye can see." And much, much more.
"If you support amnesty you are supporting our national debt growing and growing and growing and growing and bankrupting our kids and grandkids. If you support amnesty you’re supporting the Democratic party’s assault on religious liberty, assault on the Second Amendment, assault on our privacy. If you're supporting amnesty you’re supporting Common Core," he said. "If you’re supporting amnesty you’re supporting the Obama-Clinton abandoning of the nation of Israel. If you’re supporting amnesty you’re supporting the Obama-Clinton weakness and appeasement to radical Islamic terrorists."
Cruz, whose father came to the U.S. from Cuba, reiterated that he is still a firm believer in legal immigration and that it is not anti-immigrant to follow immigration law.
"I am a supporter of legal immigration, following the rules, coming to America seeking the American dream," he said.
Cruz was once a stalwart supporter of the H1-B visa program, but now says it needs to be halted for 180 days so reported abuses that have recently come to light can be investigated. He had long touted the economic benefits of legal immigration, but Friday said that American workers could be displaced under the current H1-B system.
Cruz made rare use of what he calls his "lousy" Spanish, telling the crowd, "muchimas gracias. He did not mention Rubio by name during his nearly hour-long speech, but he didn't have to -- the audience did after Cruz took a dig at his opponent.
The Texas Republican slammed Rubio earlier this week for his support of an immigration reform bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It was put forward by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" coalition in 2013. Cruz mentioned the "Gang of Eight" and names of Democrats who were in the group, and the crowd booed.
"Rubio!" people shouted. "Say it!" a woman yelled.
"And maybe a Republican or two," Cruz said, smiling.
He also said that unnamed presidential candidates said different things about immigration in front of different audiences.
"Sometimes they say it one way on English stations and another way on Spanish stations," Cruz said.
Rubio responded to Cruz's remarks Friday, saying, "I'm surprised by his criticism given the fact that his record on immigration quite frankly is not substantially different than mine."
Rubio said something similar Thursday; Cruz said he "laughed out loud" when he heard it.
Rubio again said that Cruz is "a supporter of legalizing people who are in this country illegally," something the Texas Republican has said is false.
"On other issues of immigration, he's gone much further than I have, he wanted to double the number of green cards. He wanted the 500 percent increase in the number of H1B visas," Rubio said. "So everyone running for president in one way or shape supports some form or fashion of legalization of people who are in this country illegally. The debate is, what’s the most responsible way to do that and I’ve outlined it."
Rubio said his plan would "begin with border security" and ensuring illegal immigration is "under control" and move onto "modernize our legal immigration system." Rubio is also the son of Cuban immigrants.
The fight between Cruz and Rubio exploded Thursday, when Cruz, who had only obliquely criticized his Senate opponent by highlighting differences in policy positions, slammed him for support of the bill.
"I like Marco Rubio. I respect Marco Rubio. He is a terrific guy, but the statement that I supported legalization is flat-out false," Cruz said.
Rubio spoke Friday at the "Sunshine Summit," a first-of-its-kind conference for state Republicans held here at a resort conference center.
Attending a kickoff dinner on Thursday night, Rubio warned that “a bunch of candidates” would be asking for votes.
"One out of six Republicans is running for president," he joked.
Despite his surge in popularity in early primary states and among Republicans nationally, Rubio -- and his fellow Floridian, former governor Jeb Bush -- have slipped behind out-of-state candidates.
A poll released last week showed businessman Donald Trump with 37 percent of support among GOP voters; former neurosurgeon Ben Carson had 17 percent. Rubio placed third, with 16 percent, followed by Sen Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at 10 percent. Bush earned just 7 percent in the poll conducted by SurveyUSA and Tampa-area television stations.