You might think that since Texas legislators are tied up dealing with a plunging housing market and accepting stimulus money, they'd drop the predictable collection of politically motivated immigration bills seeking to fill the federal policy vacuum. Nope. Not a chance.
Rep. Jim Jackson of Carrollton would like to declare English the official language of Texas. Then there there's Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler, who has filed nearly a dozen bills aimed at illegal immigrants -- from a measure that would challenge automatic citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to a provision that would force all illegal immigrants to move to "sanctuary cities." During an immigration policy panel discussion yesterday in Austin, a Chinese American lawyer called Berman "evil" and "despicable." The lawmaker, who says he's withdrawn the proposed legislation that's still on the state's Web site, shouted at the man to "Go home!" and "Kiss my ass!"
Rep. Roberto Alonzo of Dallas, co-chair of the Dallas legislative caucus, is pushing his own pro-immigrant measure, a bill that would prevent landlords from denying housing to illegal immigrants because of their status. It's an attempt to block the infamous Farmers Branch ordinance that, after two years and $1.6 million dollars in legal fees, has never been enforced.
"My take on this is, look, if you're gonna do anti, I'll do for," Alonzo tells Unfair Park. "But in the end, there's a wash, and we're clear about leaving immigration to the feds."
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Since many of the immigration enforcement bills are failed repeats from the last session, and since House Speaker Joe Straus has expressed less interest in them than his predecessor, Tom Craddick, Alonzo says the efforts are pure political rhetoric with little hope of gaining traction.
"These bills are not gonna see the light of day because of the new number of Democrats and the change in speaker," Alonzo says. "The issue is fodder for politics. There's gonna be a contested primary fight and the governor's race, so there'll be a fight over who's more anti-immigrant."
Of course, the anti-immigrant forces happen to be on the losing side of the demographic -- and democratic -- wave. Take Irving, for example. Alonzo points out that last November, Linda Harper-Brown held onto her seat by a thin strand of fewer than 20 votes, and Mexican American turnout nearly doubled.
"The future is now," Alonzo says, "and people have realized that by participating in the democratic process, you get results."