It's no surprise that Arizona's new immigration enforcement law is unpopular with Texas Democrats. But it's hard to find a high-ranking Republican in the state who'll endorse it, either.
Some lawmakers are all for it. Republican Reps. Leo Berman of Tyler and Debbie Riddle of Tomball say they'll file identical legislation when Texas lawmakers convene in January. Similar proposals have been filed — and left for dead — in previous sessions.
The ripple effects from the Arizona immigration bill have spread throughout the Southwest and could climax in Texas this weekend. Marches in protest to the bill and to champion for comprehensive immigration reform are scheduled in many of the state's major cities.
We asked some statewide officeholders and their challengers about the Arizona law to see where things stand now, at the beginning of the general election cycle that will precede the next session of the Legislature.
Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, both say the federal government isn't doing its job. White's flatly against the Arizona bill. Perry says he's got problems with it, too. Both spoke through staff or in press releases.
Perry started off his statement by saying the feds have failed to do their job on the border, but he added, "I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas."
He said law enforcement officers have enough to do without having immigration enforcement to worry about. "Our focus must continue to be on the criminal elements involved with conducting criminal acts against Texans and their property," Perry said in a press release.
He says he's asked the federal government for 1,000 National Guard troops to help police with border enforcement, and also for drone aircraft that can be used to monitor the border (Homeland Security officials say that air surveillance is coming soon).
Aides to White said he's against Texas having a law like the one recently signed into law in Arizona. And his reasoning is, in part, similar to Perry's, that "we can't have police officers taken off of answering 911 calls in order to stop cars on the street or ask for people's papers in a restaurant," said spokeswoman Katy Bacon. "... And how would police work to enforce this Arizona law, say, in a restaurant without racial profiling? Ask everyone to produce their passports and birth certificates?"
Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, didn't have anything good to say about the new law in the West. “We learned from what happened in Arizona last week that the promise of the American Dream is not a guarantee. We have to defend it. The law they passed in Arizona is not only anti-immigrant; it’s anti-American," she said. "This law doesn’t distinguish between criminal and undocumented. It doesn’t distinguish between undocumented and citizen. And it ignores our history — because the founders of this country were not afraid of immigrants, they were immigrants. And their dream wasn’t to raise the power of the state, but to safeguard the rights of the individual."
Chavez-Thompson said the Arizona statute will cost that state's economy, and that police are against it. "I’ll fight to ensure that Texas rejects the advice of those who don’t understand economics, who refuse to listen to law enforcement, and have little respect for the rights of citizens to be free of police harassment,” she said.
In his official statement on the question, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst never said whether he agrees or disagrees with the Arizona law. “I understand the frustration of the people of Arizona with the federal government’s failure to secure our borders and stop illegal immigration, drug trafficking and dangerous transnational gangs coming across from Mexico. Texans are frustrated too... While Texas is doing its part, I think the federal government should do theirs by dramatically increasing the number of border patrol agents to secure our borders once and for all.”
The state's attorney general will have to enforce whatever the Legislature and the governor decide to do
Attorney General Greg Abbott hit all the talking points, spanking the feds, noting legal concerns with the new law, and saying the state will protect you. “The Federal Government's primary job is to protect our borders and the safety of our citizens — and they aren’t getting the job done," Abbott said in a press release. "Even President Obama acknowledged that Arizona acted out of frustration because of the federal government’s failures. There are legitimate concerns with the Arizona law and while those are sorted out, Texas will continue demanding that the federal government stop dithering while Texans' safety is at stake. In the meantime, Texas is redoubling its efforts to provide resources — including personnel and technology — to protect Texans and secure our border.”
His Democratic opponent, Barbara Ann Radnofsky, strongly opposes Arizona's approach. “The Arizona law should be declared unconstitutional," she said. "Any similarly worded Texas law should also be declared unconstitutional. The government should not be in the business of violating individual U.S. citizen’s rights, regardless of the citizen’s appearance. The sitting Texas Attorney General, consistent with his belief that he has the power to sue the federal government for fair treatment of Texas should now insist that Texas receive its fair share of federal funding and assistance for enforcement and security. Texas taxpayers should not bear the burden for enforcement and border security, including our vital ports.”
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples didn't respond to requests for comment. But his opponent, Democrat Hank Gilbert, said the Arizona law would be expensive for people in agriculture.
“If you want to talk about driving up food costs, slashing tax revenues, and damaging our economy, then Leo Berman's bill is exactly what you want," Gilbert said. "I cannot imagine someone proposing something so irresponsible or damaging to Texas agriculture.”
According to Gilbert, some of Texas’ agriculture labor costs are currently as high as $26.50 per acre, which he said would undoubtedly increase after wages rose in response to the bill.
“The fact of the matter is this: undocumented immigrants make up a significant segment of the agricultural labor force in Texas. These men and women help Texas grow food not just for our state, but also for the rest of the nation. If you take away their ability to move freely within our society and survive without being under constant threat of police action, they will go somewhere else for jobs," Gilbert said.
“I personally do not want to live in a state where Hispanic Americans are constantly stopped and asked for their 'papers.' It is reminiscent of living in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union where identity papers were required at all times. Texas doesn't need that," he said.