A backlash against illegal immigration looms as the state legislative session approaches

May 15, 2009

Some in House vow tough immigration bills
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Saturday, October 14, 2006

New laws to fight illegal immigration are sweeping statehouses across the country this year, and some Texas lawmakers are determined to join the effort.

Banning illegal immigrants from state-funded prenatal care and denying U.S. citizenship to their children who are born in the U.S. are part of an agenda some state Republicans are promising for the upcoming Legislature.

A handful of Texas House members said this week that they intend to file bills that would deny job opportunities and government services to illegal immigrants. Other likely bills would scrap in-state tuition and tax the money that is wired to Latin America.

Immigration issues have swept statehouses across the nation this year with 33 states enacting new laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In all, more than 500 bills have been filed, most aimed at getting tough on illegal immigration.

Democratic lawmakers in some of Texas’ heavily Hispanic districts said pursuing such an agenda here would lead to ugly battles on the House floor when the legislative session begins in January.

Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the online Quorum Report for Austin’s political insiders, said the tougher bills probably will not make it past the Texas Senate, where two-thirds of the members must vote to even consider a piece of substantive legislation.

Republicans said they’re bracing for a fight and called on illegal-immigration opponents to support them when they are labeled as the bad guys.

“We’re going to be called racists and everything else. They’re going to say we don’t like other people’s culture, instead of saying that we support the laws,” Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, told members of Citizens for Immigration Reform during a meeting Thursday night at University Park City Hall.

Rep. Jodie Anne Laubenberg, R-Wylie, also spoke at the gathering of about 60 people. She said she will file a bill forbidding illegal-immigrant mothers from receiving prenatal care through the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“It comes down to, how much money will ever be enough. How much do you want to pay in taxes?” she said.

Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, did not attend the meeting, but he said he’s working on bills to get tough on illegal immigration.

He said he will propose that the state collect an 8 percent surcharge on money wired to Mexico or Central or South America. He said his bill will have the state comptroller refund the money to anyone who mails in proof of citizenship or legal status.

Berman said the money will go to hospitals in Texas that must, by federal law, provide emergency care to illegal immigrants.

He said he’ll also file a bill denying U.S. citizenship to children born in Texas whose parents are illegal immigrants.

“I know this bill will be challenged by the ACLU almost immediately,” Berman said, referring to the American Civil Liberties Union. “That’s the purpose of the bill. We know the bill won’t stand, but if we can get it passed … hopefully I can get it appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, said he’ll file a bill to scrap Texas’ offer of state financial aid and in-state tuition at public universities to illegal-immigrant students. Texas was the first state to offer in-state tuition, and nine other states followed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, noted that Texas’ in-state tuition law passed with huge support in both chambers in 2001. He suggested that many lawmakers are changing their stance because immigration has become such a big issue nationwide.

“People are getting out there on this political wave because it’s popular currently,” he said. “I hope that the emotional political flavor wouldn’t override good economic decisions and what’s best for the future of Texas.”

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said any get-tough legislation should focus on employers who draw illegal immigrants to the U.S. with job opportunities.

An executive summary of recommendations from a task force on illegal immigration organized by the Texas Conservative Coalition and led by Harper-Brown includes penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Other Democratic lawmakers said they hope next year’s legislative session will not turn into an opportunity to bash immigrants.

“We’re hoping that we’re not going to see the punitive, anti-illegal immigration [legislation] that’s been tried in other states. It’s been very divisive and will make for a volatile legislative session,” Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, said in an interview this month.

Colorado and Georgia got particularly tough, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Georgia passed one bill that, among other things, requires employers to participate in a federal work authorization program and requires residents to provide proof of legal status before receiving certain benefits from the state.

Colorado passed more than a dozen immigration laws, including one requiring businesses to verify the legal status of their employees and another requiring police to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal officials.

Luis Figueroa, legislative staff assistant for the San Antonio-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he hopes Texas will not follow that path.

“We have a longer history of dealing with immigrants here in Texas,” he said. “Texans understand they are a contribution to the economy.”