Immigrant Issues Are Personal for Bush

Associates say he has long had a comfort level with Mexicans and their
culture. In a 2004 campaign video, he waved a Mexican flag.

By Peter Wallsten, Times Staff Writer
April 2, 2006

MIDLAND, Texas — Cecilia Ochoa Levine was a Mexican trying to make it
in America. But when she hit upon a promising business opportunity, to
make knapsacks south of the border to sell in the United States, she
could not get the trade permits she needed.

And so Levine asked for help from a longtime friend in Texas, where she had been a legal resident for many years.

The friend was George W. Bush.

Within a week, Levine was on a plane to Washington for a meeting with
trade officials. And soon after, she had the papers to expand her
business, creating dozens of jobs at plants in El Paso and Ciudad
Juarez, Mexico.

Not everyone would have been willing to use his influence to help a
Mexican citizen start a company, particularly one creating jobs in
Mexico as well as in the U.S. But Bush’s actions of 21 years ago help
explain why today, as president, he is striking an unusually nuanced
tone on the emotional question of immigration policy — a stance that
has placed him at odds with the conservative Republicans who have long
formed the base of his political support.

“Here was this single mother, Mexican, no money, starting a tiny little
business,” recalled Levine. She phoned Bush because his father was then
vice president and “he was willing to use his connections in Washington
to help me out. He understood it would mean jobs for poor people.”

Long before the immigration fight that is rattling the nation, Bush
developed a picture of immigration from his life in Midland, where he
knew Levine and other Mexican immigrants personally and came to see
both sides of the border as part of the same universe.

A three-hour drive from Mexico, Midland did not have the feel of such
border cities as El Paso, but it saw a wave of Mexican immigration long
before many other communities across the South and the West. It is
where Bush spent many of his childhood years and where he later
returned to start an oil exploration business.

What Bush learned in Midland shaped his ability to appeal to Latino
voters and foreshadowed what could be one of his most important
legacies: helping the Republican Party compete for the nation’s
fast-growing political constituency.

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