For Immigration Law, a Divided Pathway Emerges

Two months after a top state Democrat filed a resolution telling Washington that Texas was all in for immigration reform, the measure has proved instead to highlight a lingering divide on the issue.

Despite the talk nationwide about broad support for comprehensive immigration reform and embracing those who “would come out of the shadows” if given the chance, Texas lawmakers haven't bought into the bipartisan hype.

In February, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, chairman of the International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, co-authored House Concurrent Resolution 44 with state Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston. Carefully crafted to include several talking points from Republican groups in favor of reforming the country’s immigration system, the nonbinding resolution was engineered to be an easy sell. It called for an increase in border security, stronger monitoring of visas for potential overstays and adopting an employment verification system – all GOP talking points.

But it also supports a pathway to citizenship.

With fewer than seven weeks left in the legislative session, Anchia has yet to gain support for the measure from a Republican.  

The glitch is in the language, said state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas. “Conservatives and others alike are nervous that what path to citizenship means is, we have an amnesty program in place,” he said. “Amnesty means a lot of things to a lot of different people.”

Villalba has taken the lead for the conservatives and is working with Anchia to change some of the language.

“We remain optimistic,” Anchia said, despite the lack of visible support. “And we’re making progress.”

But this week also proved the state House members need not look to their federal counterparts for advice on finding common ground. Just days before the so-called Gang of Eight — a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators — was scheduled to unveil its plans for immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, filed companion legislation they dubbed the "Border Security Results Act of 2013.” That bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to meet certain benchmarks, including a 90 percent apprehension rate, and inform Congress regularly of its progress in securing the border.

While Anchia’s measure is nonbinding and symbolic, the Cornyn/McCaul measure has teeth. And the duo has clout. Cornyn is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and McCaul, who worked for Cornyn in the Texas attorney general's office,  is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

They don't intend to tell DHS how to do its job or derail immigration reform, they said, adding they want their colleagues to be better informed about the situation on the border as the debate moves forward.

Democrats were not amused.

“With about 800 miles of Texas-Mexico border in the district, I know the border impacts every part of our state. I’m hopeful that this bill is a good faith effort to move forward and not an attempt to build another wall between immigrants and the American dream,” U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said in a statement.

His fellow freshman, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, added: "Opponents of immigration reform seek to hold the process hostage by insisting on a finding of border security on the U.S.-Mexico border. Attaching such a condition to the immigration reform debate is nothing more than a plain attempt to thwart reform efforts. In other words, those who would condition immigration reform on a finding of border security simply oppose a pathway to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized individuals currently in this country.”