"Unless we adjust, we as a party are at tremendous peril of vanishing forever." This was Jason Villalba, the state rep from Dallas, over the phone today, imagining the doomsday scenario that could break his Republican party, if far-right members don't shuffle toward the center aisle on immigration.
Villalba recently completed his freshman term in the Legislature and is quickly becoming an outspoken proponent of statewide immigration reform. The issue, and Villalba, took center stage at this week's party convention in Forth Worth.
Their place at the center of things is a byproduct of rapidly shifting demographics in Texas, and the critical need for state Republicans to court Hispanic voters. According to a 2013 Gallup poll Hispanics overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and are expected to become the majority ethnicity in Texas within the next 25 years.
As part of an immigration platform debate yesterday, GOP members dived back into the Texas Solution initiative, a controversial plan added to the party platform in 2012. It calls for tighter border security and a guest-worker program to allow undocumented immigrants to legally live and work in the United States, without a pathway to citizenship. Updating and maintaining the 2012 Texas Solution, Villalba insists, is the only way to gain Hispanic voters and work toward reform.
Republicans have predictably criticized the Texas Solution as too lenient, saying it offers an amnesty incentive to undocumented immigrants by allowing them to legally work in the United States as guests. As part of the proposed platform shift, Texas GOP officials have suggested changing the current guest-workers policy to grant these workers a temporary visa. "We believe in a thoughtful approach to immigration that includes guest workers. But if we yank that away a few years later -- what does that say to Hispanics across the state?"
Immigration is expected to be a key point of debate at the Texas GOP convention this week, and attendees have not disappointed. Opponents are calling for the total elimination of the Texas Solution -- some even calling for the immediate mass deportation of every undocumented immigrant.
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Deporting an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and throwing out Texas Solution, Villalba told Unfair Park, is not just logically and logistically impossible. "These issues can be perceived by the Hispanic community as alienating, divisive, and offensive," he said.
Villalba has publicly decried the way many conservatives treat undocumented immigrants, in both rhetoric and policy. In an opinion piece published this morning, Villalba admonished those who spoke out against Texas Solution last night, explaining the importance of the Hispanic vote and the need for softer rhetoric.
Illegal immigration is a serious problem with very real adverse repercussions for all Texans. I also acknowledge and accept that we as Texans work hard and play by the rules every day and that it just feels wrong and unfair that a group of people who have broken the law have taken advantage of our generosity and American largesse. But I plead with you, we have to be thoughtful here and we must look for common-sense solutions today rather than reversing course midstream. We have to find a compromise that works for all Republicans. If we remove The Texas Solution, we will put the Party in great peril. The Future of the Republican Party hangs in the balance. Stand with me and keep The Texas Solution.
For now, they have. A temporary platform committee voted to keep a version of it this week. But the debate continues. today and tomorrow.