AUSTIN — Texas Tea Party leaders, challenging Gov. Rick Perry to dispel doubts about his stance on illegal immigration, demanded Monday that he call lawmakers back to work to enact a controversial "sanctuary cities" bill and other major immigration measures.
The sanctuary cities bill would freeze state funding for local governments that prohibit officers from asking detainees about their immigration status. The measure provoked one of the Legislature's most contentious debates this year and failed to survive the 140-day regular session and a special session.
Although Perry proclaimed the bill a top priority, the measure drew behind-the-scenes resistance from influential business leaders, including Houston home builder Bob Perry, one of the governor's biggest individual political donors. Hispanic lawmakers openly assailed the bill, saying it would lead to racial profiling.
A half-dozen Tea Party leaders urged Rick Perry, the front-running Republican presidential candidate, to call a special session to enact the sanctuary cities bill or issue an executive order that would have the same effect. At least two rival candidates have sought to portray Perry as being weak on immigration because of his support of a 2007 Texas law that grants in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
"Gov. Perry needs to clarify his position on illegal immigration," said JoAnn Fleming of Tyler, chairwoman of the Texas Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee. "He needs to come back to Texas and finish this unfinished business."
The Tea Party representatives presented Perry's office with more than 3,000 signatures.
"Although we do not necessarily hold you completely responsible for the inexcusable actions of the House and Senate members during the regular and special sessions, the ball is now squarely in your court," the Tea Party letter says. "It is solely within your power as Governor to call the legislature into session and demand they complete the important work that they promised their constituents they would do."
The letter cited a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showing that Texas voters consider illegal immigration the most important problem facing the state. Inadequate border security ranked second.
"We welcome support for efforts to outlaw sanctuary city policies and encourage those interested to communicate their concerns to members of the Texas Legislature," Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. "Gov. Perry already agrees that sanctuary city policies must end."
Perry's emergency designation of the sanctuary city bill put it on a fast track. After it collapsed during the regular session, Perry included the measure among several items for consideration in the special session, which he called to deal with unfinished budget business.
Efforts to kill the bill
Despite Perry's public commitment to the measure, some critics questioned the depth of his support after reports that Bob Perry, who is not related to the governor, and San Antonio grocery store magnate Charles Butt were waging a subsurface effort to scuttle the bill.
Bob Perry and his wife, Doylene, have contributed more than $2 million to Rick Perry since 2001. The Houston home builder has also donated to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, whose members led opposition to the sanctuary cities bill.
Perry's support of the in-state tuition measure drew national attention in a GOP debate last week when Rep. Michele Bachmann charged that the Texas law gives "taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws."
Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts vetoed legislation providing in-state tuition for illegal immigration, has also seized on the issue.