Texas House and Senate Democrats unleashed a diatribe today against Gov. Rick Perry during a conference call with reporters, lambasting what they say is an underhanded attempt to promote Arizona-style immigration laws in his recent attack ad against Democratic challenger Bill White.

The television ad shows Sgt. Joslyn Johnson, the widow of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson, who was murdered by a convicted and previously deported undocumented immigrant in Houston during White’s tenure as mayor in 2006. Johnson proclaims her trust in Perry and says White supported sanctuary city policies “that made it difficult for officers to do their jobs.”

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, says the spot is “disingenuous and offensive.” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, says it's best described by the Spanish word asco (disgust) and that it is evidence Perry has shifted toward a hard-line stance on state enforcement of immigration laws.

“I think it’s very hurtful for the governor — who has said to the Latino community that he did not think Arizona-type legislation was appropriate for us — to then turn on us,” Van de Putte said during the call. The ad makes no specific reference to Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 — most of which was gutted by a district judge whose decision is now on appeal — but Uresti says people could read between the lines. 

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“There is a hidden message there, which is ‘We’re going to bring in immigration reform via Arizona-style type laws.’  It is very clear. So he is talking out of both sides of his mouth,” he says.

Perry campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier says the Democrats are confused and that Perry supports "giving discrection to law enforcement officers so they can protect our communities to the best of their ability."

"Houston’s sanctuary city policy prevents officers from inquiring about immigration status,” she says. “Texas law gives officers discretion. They can inquire if they want to.” (A fact sheet from the Houston Police Department states that "once a person has been arrested and taken to a jail facility, HPD jail personnel will then ask the person for his/her legal status.") Frazier also contends that the ad was built around Sgt. Johnson's own words. She said Houston police officers went to White "multiple times" to ask General Order 500-5, which prevented officers from inquiring about immigration status, be taken off the books and White refused. That order was made in 1992 (before White was mayor) by the police chief and has since been clarified by another order specifying that local officers would cooperate with federal enforcement agencies, and giving them permission to inquire into the immigration status of people arrested for other crimes.

When asked about the Arizona bill, Frazier says Perry believes the Arizona initiative is too much.

“The Arizona bill as passed said they had to inquire, no matter what. So in Houston you can’t ask, in Texas you can and Arizona you have to,” she says. “Arizona takes it a little bit too far.”

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, says Perry is scapegoating Latinos to pursue his ultimate goal: deflecting attention away from more pressing issues.

“He [Perry] uses these distractions to ignore our priorities, including our $25 billion budget crisis, our broken school finance system, and the fact that 6.4 million Texans are without health care,” he says. “That’s where the debate and discussion should lie in this election, and I for one am tired of our community being used as a political football when it’s convenient.”

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