Immigration talk simmers, but does not boil over, at Central Texas congressional town hall
BASTROP – Now that Congress is on recess following an ugly meltdown over immigration and border security last week, lawmakers in Texas and around the country are diving into the time-honored tradition of trying to explain what just happened and listening to voters’ frustrations during town halls in places big and small. In this town at the northern edge of the enormous Texas 27th Congressional District – yes, the congressman representing Bastrop is the one from Corpus Christi 183 miles away – Rep. Blake Farenthold spoke with constituents for about 90 minutes Wednesday night.
Despite incendiary comments from the crowd at Bastrop City Hall including a reference to a “noose” for President Obama as well as a woman asking why we don’t have better border fences, Rep. Farenthold managed to keep a calm tone and even mentioned his support for a guest worker program without getting much pushback.
The event was considerably more civil than what State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, experienced recently at an East Texas town hall or the town hall hosted by Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, about a year ago in which he tried to sell an angry crowd on a guest worker program. Carter and Simpson were both subjected to blistering criticism from self-identified Tea Partiers for either supporting immigration reform or, in the case of Simpson, asking for a compassionate response to the humanitarian crisis Texas now faces. Simpson has not backed down.
In his opening remarks, Farenthold said drug smugglers and human traffickers have grossly misrepresented President Obama’s executive action two years ago on young immigrants. The Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA, has been “twisted by the coyotes” to promote the idea in Central and South America that if parents send their kids to the United States they’ll be allowed to stay, Farenthold said.
The DACA in no way applies to children who have arrived in recent months, Farenthold pointed out. He also argued that expediting the deportations of minors who have recently arrived will send a message to immigrants’ friends and neighbors that paying someone $8,000 to transport their children to the U.S. “is a waste of money.”
Democrats – and some Republicans – are being unreasonable to demand that the response to the current “crisis” is passage of comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship, Farenthold said. The Republican compared the situation to a spouse demanding major home improvements in the midst of a gas leak in the kitchen. “I'm gonna fix the gas leak,” Farenthold said. “We can come back later and talk about the kitchen remodel."
Tim Moore, the senior pastor at Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Austin, told Farenthold that he is proud of the US House for taking some action last week but much more needs to be done. Moore, who’s come under some criticism from the right after writing in the Austin American Statesman this week that “Christians have a moral obligation” to immigrants, said "We have an economy in Texas that's tied to a lot of these people in the shadows.” Moore urged Farenthold and other Republicans to possibly revisit the issue after the November elections when there is a “lame duck” Congress. "Our churches are exploding with immigrant population both documented and undocumented," Moore said. “It’s not about cheap labor. It’s about let’s do what’s right.”
Moore was the lone voice in the crowd asking for immigration reform. Others who spoke up had a decidedly anti-immigrant tone.
One woman said the United States has worked hard to raise a population of healthy youngsters and “These children (the immigrant kids) are not coming in that way.”
A man who sounded particularly angry about illegal immigration and mad in general that Obama is president said Congress should not impeach him but "I want to let that guy go until he gets the noose around his neck so tight." The man added that, as he sees it, the reason Americans allow the government to do things he doesn’t agree with is because "Half the population has an IQ below 100."
Farenthold, to his credit, steered the conversation back to a more productive exchange in which he made at least a passing argument for a guest worker program. Without scolding anyone, he said conservatives need to be cheerful warriors. Farenthold told one voter that a huge problem with the Republican Party is that the continent demanding purity of their candidates is much too strong.
"We've got to not be angry Republicans," Farenthold said. "Once you start shouting, the communication is over."