Texas might be the next immigration law battleground

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJune 26, 2012 

Texas could become the next battleground for immigration.

In a state where lawmakers have proposed making English the state's official language and requiring presidential candidates to prove their citizenship, state lawmakers are eager to get to work during their next regular session in January and propose new immigration-related bills - especially because the Supreme Court Monday upheld a key piece of Arizona's immigration law.

Several state lawmakers are expected to revive the push for a bill similar to Arizona's "show me your papers" law. Efforts to pass such a bill in Austin last year failed.

"The 'stop and ask' measure is fair game in the next session," said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who works with both Republicans and Democrats. "It absolutely will be proposed in Texas."

Gov. Rick Perry called the ruling a victory, but said it's not enough.

It "is one step forward and two steps back - simply not good enough," he said. "The people of Arizona took action consistent with federal law and in direct response to the failure of this administration to secure our nation's borders. The absence of federal action on immigration enforcement directly spoils the integrity of our nation's laws."

Immigration has long been a heated issue in Texas - prompting marches from residents, ordinances from some cities and proposed legislation from state lawmakers.

Earlier this month, the Republican Party of Texas weighed in, dumping a hard-line approach to immigration and replacing it with "The Texas Solution," a plan to create a temporary worker program that requires participants to pay fees, pass a criminal background check and waive rights for public financial help.

"The biggest step that Texas can take to secure our borders is to help remove President Obama from office this November," said Chris Elam, deputy executive director for the Republican Party of Texas. "He has failed to live up to his promises on any sort of enforcement over our borders and our immigration laws."

ACLU officials say the court's move to uphold the "show me your papers" provision "shows just how out of touch the court is with reality."

"The tide has turned against laws like these," said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. Texas legislation

More than 40 immigration-related bills were filed - and died - in Texas last year.

But anything can happen next year, said state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, who has proposed bills that would make being an undocumented worker a crime and requiring presidential candidates to prove citizenship before being listed on the ballot. But Berman, a former Arlington mayor pro tem, won't be there since he lost his primary re-election bid.

"We've still got to deal with immigration," he said.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, has filed immigration bills and her staff said she will to review the court's ruling before deciding whether to refile similar measures next year.

In 2010, she said she wouldn't be dissuaded by legal action because that would "only serve to stoke the raging signal fire alerting Washington, D.C., to the fact that there is finally no one left to blame but themselves" for border problems.

Among immigration measures that died in Texas last year was a sanctuary cities bill, which prevents cities from enacting policies to stop peace officers from enforcing federal immigration laws, which was given priority status by Perry.

"Undoubtedly, there will be those who will ... continue to push for 'sanctuary cities' legislation here in Texas," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "We will continue to fight against unconstitutional attempts to use the state's police powers to target members of our communities based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin."

Congressional response

Several Texas congressional leaders said they were encouraged that the bulk of the Arizona law was rejected.

"When three out of four provisions of a state's law are struck down, it obviously can't be viewed as a victory for the state," said U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio. "Nor can an unconstitutional law be used a model for the nation, as Governor Romney suggested. The fact the Romney has said that as president he would not even challenge Arizona's law, shows what a sad direction our country's immigration laws would go under his administration."

But he and others say the "show me your papers" rule is troubling.

"Its implementation should be reevaluated because of racial profiling," said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. "(Monday's) decision only underlines the need for prompt, comprehensive immigration reform - write the DREAM Act into law for youth and let those immigrants, who have been longstanding, law abiding, tax paying residents, pay a penalty and get in line to become citizens.

"Even Rick Perry said the Arizona law was not right for Texas," Doggett said. "Thankfully the Court said it was wrong for America."

U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, said Arizona's anti-immigration law "does not go far enough in preventing the unjust harassment of anyone who looks Latino or sounds 'foreign.'"

"Letting stand a provision that requires police to check someone's status because they 'suspect' them of coming into the country illegally is preposterous," he said. "Your grandmother or little brother can be walking to the corner grocery store and be stopped and detained if they look 'suspicious.'"

But U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, said he doesn't believe the ruling settles anything.

"I don't think that today's mixed ruling by the Supreme Court ends the debate; in fact it may only intensify the battle over immigration reform," he said..

Eroding freedoms

Frustrated by a lack of congressional action, cities such as Farmers Branch created their own reforms.

In 2006, then-Councilman Tim O'Hare drew national attention by proposing measures to make it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city. O'Hare - who eventually became the city's mayor - proposed rules such as fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, requiring English to be the city's official language and penalizing businesses that hire people in this country illegally - many proposals challenged in court.

He has since left office, but said Monday's ruling seems unfair.

"This shows why it is important for conservatives to vote in every election ...especially when it comes to the presidency ... so the president can appoint conservative Supreme Court Justices," he said. "Otherwise, we will continue to see our freedoms eroded, our values eroded and a federal government in chaos."

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