Immigration Politics – the view from Texas
Immigration reform already appears to be high on the agenda for Congress. Although the main debates on immigration reform will be happening in Washington, DC, in many ways the debates at the state level offer an interesting perspective on the potential for reform in the next year or two. Texas politicians like George W. Bush and Rick Perry have taken a much less harsh approach to immigration than Jan Brewer of Arizona, or Robert Bentley in Alabama. These states, dominated by Republicans who are pushing for more immigration control, attempted to implement laws designed to encourage illegal immigrants to leave, and require even legal immigrants to carry their papers with them at all times. Although the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona's SB1070, the section on checking suspects' status was allowed to stay in place.
The Texas legislature is also dominated by Republicans, and several introduced strict immigration bills in the last legislative session, but none of these were passed in the last legislative session, and it is expected that the same will occur in the upcoming legislative session. What is different about Texas? Not only is Texas on the front lines in terms of being on the border with Mexico, it is also on the front lines of demographic change in the U.S. As described by the Center for American Progress “Texas is one of five states in the country where people of color make up the majority of the population. Between 2000 and 2009 Hispanic population growth accounted for 63.1 percent of all growth in the state” (Center for America Progress 2012). These statistics have clear implications for politicians in the Lone Star state. As the electorate changes, politicians will have to be more responsive to issues like immigration that are a high priority for many who are immigrants or come from families with immigrant backgrounds.
One of the first indicators of a new/different approach is the fact that outgoing Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, along with outgoing Senator Jon Kyle of Arizona, both Republicans, have proposed a version of the DREAM act, which they are calling the ACHIEVE act. The bill would do most of what the DREAM act does, without a path to citizenship. A bill being sponsored by two outgoing senators isn’t likely to go far – but it is relevant that two Republicans from border states are now pushing a bill that would provide visas for undocumented immigrants. However, other politicians in Texas want to go farther.
As reported in the Texas Tribune, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, chaired by Representative Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, released "One Nation: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream," a nine-point synopsis of issues that the caucus believes should be addressed. This includes the DREAM act with a path to citizenship. It is notable that Gonzalez is a Texan and he will be replaced in the next session of Congress by another Texan, Representative Rubén Hinojosa, D-Edinburg.
Although it is clear that the Hispanic Caucus is taking a very different approach from Senate Republicans, it is important to note that Texas politicians are taking a leading role on the issue of immigration, and it is likely that any legislation that is introduced will need support from the Texas delegation. Any way you look at it, Texas voters and Texas politicians will play an important role in the upcoming debates around immigration reform. Republicans have managed to thrive in this state, despite the growing Hispanic population, but their positions on this issue and others will have an impact on the future of the party as well as immigration reform at the national level.