Without a doubt, opposition to comprehensive immigration reform that deals with the 11 million illegal immigrants in our country is a powerful issue among grassroots activists in the GOP. This year, the two leading voices against illegal immigrants have been Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. However, Ted Cruz’s views on this issue today, are very different than the ones he supported between 2004-2008.
Ted Cruz is often described by supporters as “the real deal,” a “true unapologetic conservative” and as a “true believer that does not change his views based upon polling data or public opinion.” However, on the issue of immigration reform, polls and public opinion have indeed affected his views. Before he was a candidate for public office, Ted Cruz strongly supported policies to reform our immigration system, which included support for a path to citizenship for immigrants that were in the country illegally.
Every Latino leader who worked closely with the Bush Administration in crafting a policy to promote comprehensive immigration reform will recall that Mr. Cruz was a prominent member of the Board of Advisors of the Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute (HAPI). Mr. Cruz and HAPI were very supportive of the President’s proposal. And we all knew that Cruz was instrumental in helping the HAPI craft its policy and strategy on immigration reform.
President Bush’s proposal, strongly supported by the Washington GOP establishment, would include a path to legality or earned legalization for illegal immigrants, and included fines, waiting periods, proof of English language proficiency, criminal background checks and other criteria. This in essence was a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And Mr. Cruz never issued a statement opposing his former boss’ proposal. Why? Because at the time he was supporting the President’s proposal and most importantly, he was not a candidate for public office looking at internal GOP polls.
Let’s not forget that in 2004, supporting comprehensive immigration reform was viewed very positively among top GOP establishment in Washington. The policy crafted by the Bush administration did not support “amnesty” however, it provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as long as they went to the “back of the line” in the process to get a green card. At the time, this policy was seen as very important step to gain Latino support for GOP candidates. Mr. Cruz was a very eloquent advocate for this strategy.
Between 2005 and 2007, once again as a member of HAPI’s Board of Advisors, Mr. Cruz was part of the group of Latino leaders supporting the McCain-Kennedy legislation. At the time, many conservative Latinos were being lobbied and pressured by HAPI members, including Mr. Cruz, to support McCain’s bill. The Latino Coalition opposed McCain-Kennedy, supporting instead the conservative alternative bill authored by Senators Kyl and Cornyn. Many of us recall being on the receiving end of serious criticisms from HAPI and Mr. Cruz, for this decision.
HAPI’s top legislative initiative during this time was the passage of the McCain-Kennedy bill, yet Mr. Cruz never issued a statement showing his disagreement or displeasure with HAPI’s lobbying efforts on this issue, nor did he resign from their Board.
However, that all changed when Mr. Cruz decided to become a candidate for public office himself. Mr. Cruz rapidly realized that his positions on immigration reform that were popular among the Republican establishment in Washington would not help him get elected in Texas. That’s when the new Ted Cruz’s position on immigration was born.
Most recently during the Republican debate in Las Vegas on December 15th, Cruz said he had never supported legalizing the illegal immigrants. However, as reported by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and Brit Hume, during a Senate hearing on immigration reform in 2013, Cruz specifically supported legalizing illegal immigrants as long as they did not have a path to citizenship.
So Ted Cruz has not been consistent on immigration reform. His current position is based entirely on polling data and political expediency.
Ted Cruz is a very clever, articulate, and adaptive politician. He knows how to read his target audience and position himself as a champion on their issues. His current position on immigration reform is based on current polling data showing that the base of the Republican Party that actually votes in primaries strongly opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants. And that is why he “evolved” from being a strong advocate for the Washington establishment’s immigration proposal and the McCain-Kennedy bill to the hardline supporter of deportation of all illegal immigrants he claims to be today.
Let’s see if this opportunist transformation pays off during the presidential primary process.
Robert G. de Posada is the founder and past President of The Latino Coalition and served as Director of Hispanic Affairs at the Republican National Committee under Chairman Lee Atwater.