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How long will Texas be the most anti-immigrant state in the nation?

26 Oct

With little fanfare but with quiet determination, Texas has acquired the dubious distinction of becoming the No. 1 anti-immigrant state in the nation.

Lawmakers need to reverse this trend of alienating the state’s Hispanic population before it’s too late. They can start with support for permanent legal status of some 800,000 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as the “Dreamers.”

Texas has taken a giant step backward from the leadership of men like Gov. George W. Bush. In 1996, Bush warned presidential candidate Pat Buchanan that he was welcome in Texas but not to bash immigrants. And Bush distinguished himself as a presidential candidate who could lead the way in supporting common sense immigration reform.

By June 2001, a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature overwhelmingly passed and Bush’s successor, Rick Perry, signed the “Texas Dream Act” allowing thousands of undocumented Texas residents to pay in-state college tuition.

And in 2006, President Bush, recognizing that feelings in the country ran deep on immigration, prophetically warned in an Oval Office speech, “We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger or playing on anyone’s fears or exploiting the issue for political gain.”

Yet the Texas Legislature this year passed the so-called “anti-sanctuary city” and “show me your papers” Senate Bill 4. It would have gone into effect but for U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio, who ruled Texas officials could not implement the law.

Texas immediately appealed the adverse decision to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently stayed key parts of the District Court’s temporary SB 4 injunction. Gov. Greg Abbott sold Senate Bill 4 as necessary to protect the public from “dangerous criminals.” But SB 4 does no such thing. Dangerous criminals are always placed in removal/deportation proceedings while in prison before completion of their prison sentence.

Every city in Texas recognizes federal detainers even though a few will not for minor misdemeanors for budgetary and community relations reasons. What’s most egregious about SB 4 is the “show me your papers” provisions, which would permit any local law enforcement officer to require any individual, even if not otherwise subject to arrest, to prove their lawful status in the United States. This likely will result in many Hispanic, Asian and other U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants being arrested for minor offenses such as speeding or failing to signal a turn and then being held on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer.

These problems were exacerbated on a nationwide scale when the Trump administration rescinded the DACA program on Sept. 5, laying out a gradual phase-out that will occur over six months.

That deadline had been set by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from other states who joined in a letter last June vowing to go to court if the DACA program was not eliminated. And to think that Texas politicians were once considered leaders for immigration reform.

DACA has provided legal protection from deportation for more than 230,000 young Texas immigrants who were brought here as children, often as infants, many without any knowledge of their home country or its native language nor having ever committed any crime.

Further, the Texas Legislature recently adjourned after gutting funding for public schools, health and other programs for Texas, yet funding $800 million for border enforcement in spite of the fact that we have the lowest rates of illegal immigration since Richard Nixon, and border enforcement is a federal responsibility.

While this anti-immigrant stance may still be good, short-term politics in Texas, it is fighting the inevitable. As Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute at Rice University, has said: “This is a done deal. Texas is already a majority Hispanic American state under the age of 18.”

It will be just a matter of time before Texas Republican leadership, much like what happened in California, will have so alienated the majority Hispanic American voters that Texas could go Democratic. Our Republican congressional delegation, however, will have the opportunity to redeem Texas by voting for the Dream Act that will give DACA beneficiaries the right on a long-term basis to qualify for lawful permanent residency or so-called “green card” status.

Foster is past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and immigration policy advisor to President George W. Bush.