By Alan Bean
Thanks to Scott Henson for alerting me to this piece in the San Antonio Express-News. In the 2012 election, as everyone knows, Latinos turned out in record numbers, voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Signs abound that Republicans, even in safely red states like Texas, are taking notice.
Even if Latinos continue to support Democrats, the blue team won’t be competitive in the Lone Star State for at least another decade. But Republicans can’t win the presidency without significant Latino support, and that sobering fact has deflated the anti-immigrant movement, at least temporarily.
Long-term, Texas Republicans can maintain control of their state’s legislative machine only by cultivating Latino participation and influence. That won’t happen if Texas Republicans are lining up to sponsor anti-immigrant legislation.
Jason Buch’s article (see below) suggests the Texas GOP may be awakening to the new reality.
If so, this is great news. Mass deportation is having the same impact in poor Latino communities that mass incarceration has wrought in poor African American neighborhoods, and for similar reasons.
During the most recent session of the Texas legislature, immigrant rights activists combined with pro-business groups to defeat most Arizona-style bills. Texas businesses, large and small, need undocumented workers in the same way the GOP needs Latino votes. Texas Republicans can soldier on as the Party of White for at least another decade without Latino support, but bereft of undocumented labor the state’s economic infrastructure would collapse.
Immigrants, legal and otherwise, contribute far more in labor and taxes than they absorb in various forms of social assistance. Brave men and women (it takes courage to cross the border these days) come to America in search of work and show their gratitude by working far harder than most native born citizens. As Texas moves reluctantly into new demographic territory, may these good people receive the dignity and respect they deserve.
By Jason Buch
When it was time to file bills ahead of the 2011 Texas legislative session, the race to address illegal immigration was so urgent that one Houston-area representative camped out on the steps of the Capitol to ensure she was the first to propose making it a state crime to be in Texas without papers.
As lawmakers prepare for the 2013 session, they are mostly silent on the immigration front. Those calling for states to crack down on immigration in Texas saw their efforts dissolve last year as lawmakers struggled to pass a budget.
The ban on so-called “sanctuary cities,” which Gov. Rick Perry had deemed emergency legislation, died in a late-night committee hearing as Republicans watched evangelical and big business leaders line up with Democrats to defeat the bill.
This year, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, including portions similar to the bill Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, stayed out all night to file in November 2010.
San Antonio’s Lyle Larson, one of the few representatives to file bills related to immigration so far, said one reason for the lack of interest may be that many of the legislators who pushed for state laws addressing the issue aren’t returning this session.
Riddle, who has yet to file an immigration bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
Some observers say there’s no stomach for anti-immigration laws this time around.
The widely held perception is that harsh rhetoric on immigration helped sink Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in November, and could do the same to the Republican majority in Texas
“People are a lot smarter about the issue,” Austin political consultant Bill Miller said. “They got really educated in the last general election.”
Larson, a Republican entering his second term, said he’s trying to “open a dialogue” on immigration with bills that would require institutions like hospitals and schools to record the immigration status of people who receive services, mirroring a bill that failed last session, and repealing a state law that gives in-state tuition to college students in the country illegally.
“My issue is for whatever reason, for the last 20 years, the state of Texas has taken a posture that we don’t want to alienate folks from Mexico,” Larson said “And I agree with that, but there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy discussion about some of the issues that are affecting our country.”
The various university systems’ boards of regents can decide if they want to grant in-state tuition to students who aren’t here legally, he said.
Larson also said he wants to track how much local service providers spend on those in the country illegally.
He points to a 2006 Texas comptroller’s study that found those here illegally pay more taxes than they use in services at the state level, but couldn’t calculate the cost at the local level.
A law proposed by Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, would prevent local governments from spending money on day labor centers.
Larson in sent a letter in April to then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón asking that Mexico compensate Texas for money spent on services to those here illegally. He didn’t get a response.
Martinez Fischer said he’s not convinced immigration won’t become an issue later in the session, despite the dearth of bills addressing the issue.
“On the one hand, it could be a lesson learned for the Republican Party about what might happen when you pick on Latinos,” he said. “Quite frankly, the legislative session is 140 days, and perhaps would-be immigrant bashers are just waiting for the moment to strategically file legislation.”
The 2001 in-state tuition bill that Larson wants to repeal was cited by Perry during his unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
During the campaign, the governor stood by his decision to sign the bill, which his opponents used against him. A spokesman wouldn’t say if Perry would veto Larson’s bill, should it pass.
“The governor will review any bill that makes it to his desk, but as he has said before, he stands behind the decision the Texas Legislature made in 2001,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens said.
Perry still would like to see a ban on “sanctuary cities,” Havens said. The bill the governor supported last year would have punished governmental entities and law enforcement departments that prevent their officers from asking about immigration status. It was strongly opposed by police chiefs from the state’s biggest cities.
Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said that with illegal immigration at the lowest it’s been in decades and members of Congress from both parties seriously considering immigration reform, the onus to address the program has moved off state legislators.
Creating a guest-worker program, which many Republican leaders support and which the state party called for when it ratified a new platform this year, needs to be done in Washington, Munisteri said.
“I think there’s an awareness in state legislatures that maybe we should wait to see what happens at the national level,” he said.