When Ted Cruz Helped Craft Bush's Immigration Reform Plan

Republican critics now scoff at the Texan's opposition to a pathway to citizenship because they know his history.

Ted Cruz speaks during the Texas Republican Convention in 2012 (LM Otero/AP)

In 2000, Ted Cruz was known as a Texas-raised, Harvard-trained domestic policy adviser to the George W. Bush campaign. Bush was a two-term governor from a border state who was determined to fix what he saw as a broken, inhumane immigration system.

Cruz helped craft the campaign's immigration policy, which called for speeding up the application process, increasing the number of work visas, and allowing the relatives of permanent residents to visit the U.S. while their applicants were pending. "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande," Bush used to say.

Bush, a self-described "compassionate conservative," went on to win the presidency and champion a law that would have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to earn citizenship. Cruz went on to win election to the Senate from Texas as a hero of the tea party movement and emerge as a sharp critic of a pathway to citizenship in the latest attempt at immigration reform on Capitol Hill.

The route Cruz chose, from working on the reform-minded Bush campaign to voting against the bill Wednesday as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confounds some of those who crossed paths with him. His role on the Bush campaign is a lesser-known part of the biography of a politician increasingly viewed as a potential presidential contender in 2016.

"I'm disappointed in Ted because he's a very bright, articulate lawyer with a substantial base of knowledge about immigration," said Houston lawyer Charles Foster, who advised the Bush campaign on immigration and said he worked closely with Cruz. "But instead of using that knowledge, he's acting like a typical politician and just talking about the border being out of control."

It would unfair to accuse Cruz of flip-flopping, however, since Bush said little during the campaign about citizenship except to state his opposition to "blanket amnesty." Cruz saw his job as a Bush campaign staffer "to develop the best possible argument for the priorities that then-Gov. Bush articulated," said Cruz's senior political adviser, Jason Johnson. He said that he and Cruz did not discuss Bush's later support for a pathway to citizenship, but he insisted that the senator has never favored creating that process for illegal immigrants.

"His position on immigration and border security has been consistent and clear, and that is that we should control the border and reform the legal-immigration system," Johnson said.

The current bill would allow illegal immigrants to seek citizenship after passing a background check, paying taxes and fines, holding down a job, and going to the back of the line. Before the vote on Tuesday, Cruz said that allowing undocumented workers to earn citizenship would be unfair to legal immigrants and encourage more illegal immigration. He also called the bill "toothless" to enforce border security. His amendments, which failed, would have tripled the number of border-patrol agents and barred illegal immigrants from earning citizenship.

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Beth Reinhard is a political correspondent for National Journal.

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