Proposed legislation that would establish a state-run guest-worker program would legally satisfy the state’s appetite for cheap labor but not grant amnesty to people already in Texas illegally, according to the bill’s author.

House Bill 2757, by state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, would establish a 26-member commission staffed by lawmakers or their designees, state employees and chosen members of the public to create and oversee a guest-worker pilot program, the Migrant Worker Visa Pilot Project. It would allow the governor’s office to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the governor of a Mexican state for the purposes of importing laborers from Mexico.

The bill could put the Texas Legislature in a new quandary over immigration, this time concerning whether states should enact their own programs to allow foreigners to legally reside and work here, which some say is an issue under the purview of the federal government. Opponents of state enforcement of immigration laws — like those that would abolish sanctuary cities or make being in the country illegally a state crime — have argued that enforcement is a federal responsibility and that state governments lack that authority.

But Peña said his legislation is allowed under current law.

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“These are tools the federal government has given to the states to permit a guest-worker program,” Peña told the House Committee on State Affairs today. “We just have to take advantage of it. All it is is a pilot program and a study.”

He said it would ultimately be up to Gov. Rick Perry to give the program the green light.

The proposed legislation mandates that the state guest-worker program be compatible with federal policies for issuing non-immigrant visas, and compel interested Texas businesses to demonstrate a lack of sufficient laborers here. It also requires the Mexican state to provide only workers who pass criminal background checks and aptitude tests proving they are capable of performing the duties for which they're applying. Workers would be issued an ID card, and the government of the Mexican state would be compelled to inform workers when they are required to return to Mexico.

The bill would allow Texas to be a leader in sensible immigration reform and avoid the economic repercussions faced by Arizona it passed SB 1070, said Todd Landfried, the spokesman for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.

The worst-case scenario if all aspects of the Arizona immigration law are implemented, he said, would be a loss in that state of 581,000 jobs and a $48.8 million loss in gross state product.

“That should scare anybody,” he said. “We believe that HB 2757 provides a much more practical approach. There needs to be a balance of labor [because] there is certainly a demand for that.”

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Opponents of the measure said Texas should focus its resources on educating people here and not reaching out to Mexico.

“I think this whole bill stacked like another welfare program for the unemployed or underemployed in Mexico,” said David Carter with the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas. His colleague, Maria Martinez, said the coalition's affiliate, Judical Watch, would be prepared to file suit against the state of Texas if the bill is passed in its current form. She also questioned whether the committee was ready to trust the Mexican government, which she called the “most corrupt in the western hemisphere,” to hold up its end of the bargain or to not seek financial compensation for gutting its workforce.

“What costs and payment will the government of Mexico seek from Texas?” she asked the committee. “[And] do members of the Texas Legislature really want to put national security tasks in the hands of the Mexican government?”

The bill was left pending in committee.

 

[Editor's note: The story has been modified since it was first published to correctly identify the member of IRCOT as David Carter.]

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