This story is over 5 years old.

Ted Cruz and Immigration — from a Cuban Prison to an Iowa Parking Lot

Will Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a staunch opponent of immigration reform who was born in Canada to a Cuban father, endure Obama levels of scrutiny from his Tea Party supporters?
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier/Redux

Related: Watch Charlie LeDuff's 'The Americans,' featuring his interview with Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz has some 'splaining to do.

I ran into the Texas Republican earlier this month at the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines, and asked him his thoughts on immigration.

He's pretty much against it. He wants the border zipped up and a concrete fence erected, and he does not support any road to citizenship for those who have snuck in. Period.


"I am the son of an immigrant who came 58 years ago from Cuba — came legally," Cruz told me out in the parking lot. "And I think Americans are agreed that amnesty is wrong."

He was wearing a tie and no jacket. Midwesterners love a guy who takes his jacket off. Makes him look like he knows what he's doing.

Cruz was shorter than I'd expected, with a tablespoon too much hair product and a suit wrinkled by miles on the cabbage patch stump. By my unofficial count, he has made more trips to Iowa than to the Texas border since becoming the Lone Star State's junior senator two years ago. If you want to be president, you have to be in Iowa, I'm told.

"If we allow people who came here illegally to be put on a path to citizenship," Cruz continued, "that is incredibly unfair to those who follow the rules."

Biscuits like that have helped make the senator a Tea Party darling and the bus driver of the far-right express. He is a Latino whose stump speech about his father's "legal" path to the American Dream is by now a well-polished plum that recounts a Tony Montana-esque journey from Cuban political prisoner to Texas dishwasher to Canadian oilman to American evangelical pastor.

Cruz is the Pied Piper of the Tea Party movement, the ones who were peddling the narrative of Obama as a mongrel Manchurian Candidate.

In fact, Cruz offered up his father to the Ag Summit attendees as an example of the right way to be an immigrant. Before coming to America, Cruz said, his father was "imprisoned and tortured in Cuba."


What Cruz did not tell the audience of crusty conservatives — and what I did not know until I got back to my writing desk a few days later — was that Cruz's father, Rafael, actually fought alongside Fidel Castro's communist forces. He was captured and jailed and beaten by the regime of Fulgencio Batista, the US-backed dictator.

Somehow, despite the fact that he was a rebel fighting alongside communists, Rafael was released from the dictator's prison sometime around 1957 and accepted to the University of Texas. He then made it to America on a student visa when a family friend bribed a Cuban crony to stamp his exit visa. How a Cuban rebel could get a visa into the United States in the 1950s without lying about aiding and abetting Castro is beyond me. Lying on a visa application is grounds for deportation.

I'd love to see the original document, Senator. I mean, if you're seriously running for president.

A few years back, when the birther conspiracy against Obama was in full bloom, Pastor Rafael Cruz told a Texas audience that he'd "like to send [Obama] back to Kenya."

Related: Republican presidential hopefuls bash Bush and roast Hillary at CPAC

President Barack Obama's father was an African Muslim. That doesn't sit well with the nativists. But Cruz's daddy was, by his son's own admission, "a guerrilla, throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing up buildings" while fighting for Castro against a US-backed regime. Hardly the Horatio Alger biography required from the hard-right.


There's more.

Rafael married an American woman named Eleanor, and they moved to Canada to chase their American dream in the Alberta oil fields. Rafael got Canadian citizenship, got drunk a lot, got his wife pregnant, and got Jesus.

At least Obama can rightfully claim that Hawaii — where he was born — is part of America. That gives the president a leg up on Pastor Cruz's son Ted, who was born in Calgary in 1970. (That's in Canada.) Pastor Cruz did not become an American citizen until 2005.

Remember, you can't be president of the United States unless you're a "natural born Citizen." The question of Cruz's nationality centers on his mother, who claims on his Canadian birth certificate to be an American citizen raised in Delaware.

Related: Detroit's 'Walking Man' walks on

I believe that his mother is an American — I'm no conspiracy kook. But Cruz is the Pied Piper of the Tea Party movement, the ones who were peddling the narrative of Obama as a mongrel Manchurian Candidate.

Certainly those people will want to see Cruz's proof of citizenship as well. Did his mother live in the United States for at least 10 years — with at least five of them coming after her 14th birthday — as required by US law at the time of her son's birth?

Maybe next time we meet in Iowa, Cruz will show me her report cards to prove it.

Follow Charlie LeDuff on Twitter: @Charlieleduff