With border crisis as backdrop, Texas business interests are in a full-court press on immigration

Humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border turns the issue on its head.

Hoping to lose none of any ground – either real or perceived – they may have gained on immigration in the United States House of Representatives, Texas business interests over the last couple weeks have been publicly pushing as hard as ever for comprehensive reform. The fact that tens of thousands of migrant children have flooded South Texas in what has become a true humanitarian crisis greatly complicates the issue that has for years put two major factions within the GOP, business and the Tea Party, at odds.

How unpredictable have things become?

Witness the fact that far-right commentator Glenn Beck is taking heat from some conservatives for saying “we must open our hearts” to these children. To his credit, Beck is planning to take tractor-trailers to McAllen filled with water, food, teddy bears and soccer balls to them. If you go to Beck’s website, you don’t have to scroll down very far in the comments to find anger about his plan: “Open our hearts to what…?!…Deadly Diseases…Murder…Rape…Molestation…Theft…More Welfare Recipients…?!”

Though Texas business leaders have slowly reported progress over the last year, winning the support of staunch conservatives like Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, and Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, they’ve more recently found reason to be discouraged by headlines in outlets like Politico proclaiming that reform is dead this year.

Speaker John Boehner, as Quorum Report first told you, had privately been telling business leaders from Texas that he would hold votes on immigration after Republicans could no longer draw Tea Party challengers. Later, he openly mocked some of his own members for being unwilling to take an affirmative stand. There are likely enough votes to pass something out of the House now, even if large numbers of Republicans vote no, but Boehner hasn’t moved.

Chris Tomlinson in the Houston Chronicle observes that Speaker Boehner might finally do something once all GOP primaries across the nation are concluded. But here in Texas where the primaries are over, one of the party’s leading voices – if not its leading voice – sounds as hardline as ever.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the party’s nominee for Lite Guv, told delegates at the Republican Party of Texas Convention that they should send a message to Boehner that immigration reform should take a backseat to border security. He wanted Texas Republicans to send a message to Boehner that now isn’t the right time for reform. Not until the border is locked down, he said. Those same delegates on that same day rejected what’s been called The Texas Solution, which includes a guest worker program but no path to citizenship. Interesting, though, that 44 percent of the delegates on the floor wanted to retain support for a guest worker program. So, there is now a legitimate debate about immigration within the base of the party.

At recent events at Facebook’s offices in Austin, the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, as well as businesses in Houston and Waco, various Republican leaders have forcefully made the case for increased border security in conjunction with a long-term plan for what to do with the estimated 11 million or so undocumented people now living in the United States.

At the Bush Institute event, Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said the political difficulties should not be excuses for inaction. "As the humanitarian crisis on our border worsens, it is clear that the first step in remedying this situation begins with immediate and effective border security," Villalba said. "I have great compassion for the children who have been affected by this tragedy, but my first priority as an elected official lies with those members of our community who are already residents. A strong and steadfast border protection program will prevent this crisis from worsening."

“A common-sense middle ground position on immigration reform should include a path, not to citizenship, but instead, to legal status – but only for those who pay a penalty and back taxes, register identification with the state and the country, fully assimilate into the culture by learning the English language, and remain free of any felony charges,” Villalba said.

In Houston, Republican Texas Senate candidate Paul Bettencourt – a close ally of Sen. Patrick who is in line to take his desk in the upper chamber – spoke in favor of reform with a strong focus on national security.

"What is fundamentally missing in all this debates that we've had recently in immigration is that we don't even have a citizenship list to even check a known person against, and this has been a failure, again, of federal leadership for over eight years, and in both parties in control of Congress, that we are simply not addressing a fundamental requirement," Bettencourt said. "We are the largest nation that I know of on the Earth that doesn't have a citizenship list that's easily accessible."

At a press conference in the capital city this week hosted by the Texas Association of Business, the Senior Pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Austin Tim Moore said immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are the fastest growing segment of Evangelical church attendance. "That issue became very real to me as a pastor," Moore said of the wave of immigrants filling the pews on Sundays. He said that while Evangelicals have been slow in promoting reform – Catholics were way ahead of them – they’re now on the same page, as are the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce.

When asked about the fact that Sen. Patrick is a proud Evangelical but takes a very hard line on this anyway, Moore said immigration is one of the reasons Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, may give him a real run for his money as the two clash in the contest for lieutenant governor.

“Senator Patrick is a friend,” Moore said. Then he cautioned his friend against continuing his harsh rhetoric in the fall contest. What’s effective in a GOP primary is very different from what may help win in the general election, Moore said. "I don't know what the future of Texas is - only God knows the future - but I think the future of Texas ought to be that we need those in the economy, those who have come to work,” he said.

In an interview late Friday, El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz told QR that the crisis unfolding on the border has “brought out the best and the worst in us perhaps.” He said it’s been particularly disturbing to see so many people expressing fear of children. “They usually have the ability to soften our hearts,” he said. Seitz added, however, that many people have stepped up in heroic ways to help the kids, including opening shelters and donating their time and money.

Immigration should not be an issue that’s partisan or ideological, Seitz said. “President Obama has been really hard for the Catholic Church to deal with,” he said, pointing to some of the administration’s actions that Catholic leaders consider “real direct threats to our religious liberty." But, immigration reform is “an issue that has the support of many, many religious leaders."

If Catholics and Baptists can get together on this, surely Republicans and Democrats can do the same.


Copyright July 11, 2014, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved. Republished with permission.

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