For Latino Republicans who have known Ted Cruz over the last 15 years, the candidate stumping across the country on an anti-immigration platform is not the rising talent they once worked with on the George W. Bush campaign, in the Bush administration, and then as Texas Solicitor General.
The Ted Cruz of those years was a whip-smart and audaciously ambitious lawyer who lent his considerable intellectual heft to the policies many Latino Republicans cared most about, including immigration reform. But during a CNN debate in December, as Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio clashed over Cruz’s past positions on offering legal status to undocumented immigrants, Cruz said definitively, “I’ve never supported legalization, I do not intend to support it.”
Weeks later, Cruz doubled down, explaining to Fox News’ Bret Baier that he tried to amend to the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill not to pass it, but to doom it to defeat. “Bret, you’ve been around Washington long enough, you know how to defeat bad legislation.”
And with that, Cruz’s bridge back to his former colleagues in Latino Republican circles began to burn.
“It’s just a flat out lie. Period,” said Robert De Posada. “There’s just no truth behind it.”
De Posada is a former Director of Hispanic Affairs for the RNC and founder of the Latino Coalition, a conservative Latino organization that worked with the Bush administration unsuccessfully to pass immigration reform. “My criticism is that Cruz can say, ‘Things have changed and I’ve changed my position.’ But don’t sit here and flat out lie that you have never been for legalization when the facts are very clear.”
The facts, according to De Posada and several Republicans who worked with Cruz in Washington and Texas, are that in Cruz’s past work for Bush and later as a board member of the Washington-based Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute, Cruz helped craft policies to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and pursue legal status.
None of those efforts included granting automatic amnesty to undocumented workers, but it is clear in the minds of his former colleagues that finding a way to offer immigrants a way to remain in the United States and gain legal status was central to the work Cruz did.
A former Bush administration official who worked with Cruz during the 2000 campaign and later as a part of an interdepartmental White House working group on immigration remembered Cruz as an aggressive member of the teams tasked with creating a framework to pass Bush’s pro-immigration agenda. The position Cruz holds today was not in play in those years, the official said, in sometimes deeply personal terms.
“How do you say hypocrite in Spanish? Do you know? It’s Ted Cruz,” the former official said. “To know Ted is to hate Ted.”
The official described Cruz’s role on the Bush immigration agenda as working as a liaison between the office of public liaison and the White House’s policy shop. “He wanted to bring immigrants out of the shadows,” the official said. “That’s changed since the campaign and changed since the White House days. But of course it has. If it suits Ted, he’s for it. If it doesn’t, he’s against it.”
“It’s a disappointment,” said the official, who, like many of the people interviewed for this piece, referenced Cruz’s natural intelligence. “I think Ted could do a lot of good if he had a soul.”
But before the White House, Cruz worked in Texas as a policy adviser for the Bush presidential campaign, including on Bush’s plans for immigration reform.
When Charles Foster, a prominent Houston immigration lawyer, was tapped to draft Bush’s plan, he said he was told the campaign had a team of bright young lawyers to work with him. “One of them, named Ted Cruz, had in his bailiwick of issues immigration and he would be my contact with the campaign,” Foster said.
Together, Foster and Cruz worked for nine months drafting what would become the immigration principles of the Bush campaign and eventually the White House. The plan would not include amnesty like Ronald Reagan’s blanket legalization program, which immediately put undocumented immigrants in line for citizenship. But Bush would push for a path to legal status, an aggressive temporary worker program, and a requirement that undocumented workers who stayed in the United States would go to the back of the line for citizenship.
Foster remembers Cruz as a “very hands on” professional who never raised objections to the policies. “I assumed Ted was supportive of Gov. Bush’s positions, but I honestly can’t remember asking Ted if he agreed with the position and personally supported it. I assume he did, but we were like lawyers representing the interests of our client.”
After the campaign and two years in the Bush administration, Cruz moved home to Texas to become the state’s Solicitor General in 2003. Once in Texas, he joined the board of advisers for HAPI, a group of Latino conservatives that included George P. Bush, former members of Congress, and multiple veterans of the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations.
While Cruz was a member of the board and its policy committee, HAPI advocated conservative positions to an array of issues, including its opposition to both climate change legislation and the Affordable Care Act. On immigration, HAPI strongly advocated for a path to legalization, including President Bush’s principles for immigration reform, as well as the 2006 McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill.
“It’s just bullshit,” said a former member of the HAPI when asked about Cruz’s contention that he never supported legalization. “That’s what pisses us all off. Don’t throw us under the bus for legalization and not take on the nativists and the crazies when you wrote the language. Stand for something.”
The former HAPI board member, who asked not to be named in order to speak freely, described Cruz as a fully engaged member of the group. Cruz co-chaired a 2005 event featuring Gov. Rick Perry and served as a keynote speaker for two of the group’s events. And because of Cruz’s legal expertise, board members said they relied on him to do the first draft of policy positions, including HAPI’s support for immigration reform. When he ran for Senate in 2012, HAPI hosted a fundraiser to support his candidacy.
In the 2012 campaign for Senate, Cruz’s role at HAPI became the subject of a bitter disagreement between Cruz and David Dewhurst, then the lieutenant governor of Texas and Cruz’s opponent in the Senate primary race. The Dewhurst campaign accused Cruz of “leading two organizations that support amnesty,” a position that neither HAPI nor the other group ever supported. But members of HAPI’s board insist that legalization for undocumented immigrants was always unequivocally a part of its platform.
HAPI no longer exists, but Cruz has gone on to become its most famous and potentially most powerful former member, an end to the story that many of his fellow Latino Republicans lament.
“When he went so far as to say he’s never been for legalizing, that’s where he crossed the line and lost people like me,” said Robert De Posada. “It’s a character issue where a lot of us are just like, ‘Um, no.’”