In June the Republican Party of Texas adopted what conservative proponents of immigration reform called a sensible policy on the issue, one that called for a national guest-worker program. That plank of the party's platform was championed by the “Texas Immigration Solution,” a Houston-based nonprofit that also calls for a secure border and alternatives to mass deportation.
GOP leaders say the policy is evidence to Hispanic voters and Texas business owners that Republicans are on the side of economic migrants and the employers who need them. It's in contrast to the national party's platform, which urges self-deportation and derides any form of legal status to the undocumented as "amnesty."
Brad Bailey, the founder and CEO of the Texas Immigration Solution, a nonprofit interest group, recently spoke with The Texas Tribune about how his organization started, why he thinks Republicans have the best answer to the country's immigration problem, what both parties need to do to solve the problem and why his group opposes the DREAM Act.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TT: When was the Texas Immigration Solution formed?
Bailey: We first formed a group called the Hard Work/Clean Hands initiative in May of this year. It’s a [nonprofit], and we were looking to address the immigration issue on the conservative side of the aisle. Then we went through the state-platform process and it was the best market research that we could have done, because we had so many different groups at the table, from the Minutemen militia to religious leaders to business leaders to law enforcement.
We went through a great process of everyone sharing ideas and talking about the problems and the issues, like border security, problems with E-Verify in the workplace, Arizona-style laws and how they affected the economy. It was the one time that people let down their guards and starting talking about the issue as one, and a lot of great things came of it.
TT: How much pushback have you received from Tea Party conservatives or Republicans who want stricter immigration enforcement?
Bailey: This is not an issue that I think the Tea Party was really engaged in. I believe the Tea Party was one of the biggest supporters at the state convention. I believe they saw the problem and how we were trying to address it. So I don’t see the Tea Party being a big pushback.
I think with us coming in and being new voices on this issue and being serious that securing the border was our top priority, a lot of arms were dropped and people started talking about the issue. Yes, there are still people who are very passionate about the issue, and some refuse to listen and some refuse to talk. But I am going around talking to women’s Republican clubs and Tea Party clubs throughout the state. When I begin, you see a lot of arms crossed and you see a lot of shaking of heads. By the time I finish, the arms come uncrossed and people start saying, "It makes sense" and "This is a good start for us to start talking about this problem."
TT: What’s the group’s stance on the federal DREAM Act?
Bailey: We aren’t really addressing the DREAM Act. I believe the DREAM Act has a lot of flaws. If you look at some of the polling with the DREAM Act, it doesn’t poll well at all, and I think that it’s something that people are upset about.
We’re talking about processes for legalization for people here already. That is the first step. While it is a very complicated issue, I believe that looking at legalization of people who are here should be the first priority. And then we need to tackle the people who are here and looking for citizenship.
TT: It seems like you’re advocating for legal status for the labor market, which is already here and probably knowingly came illegally. Why not have the same priorities for kids who were brought here at a young age and know nothing but this country but are still undocumented because of what their parents did?
Bailey: Our plan is not just legal status for the individual but legal status for the family. We don’t believe in breaking up families, but we’ve got to find a way to make that work. We need to make sure that people pass background checks and are good stewards of our country and figure out ways to make it work. So if someone was brought here at a young age with their family in eighth or ninth grade, we’re not looking at saying, "Okay, your father can be legalized here but you can’t. You got to go back." We believe in keeping the family together and finding a way to make that process work.
TT: Talk about what a boon to the economy this would be. How come people aren’t listening to the argument more on that level?
Bailey: You have to look at a lot of different issues. Taking the compassion out of it is one thing, but if you look at the underground economy, there are people who are breaking the rules and not adhering to everything they’re supposed to.
How do we fix that problem?
One of the things that our plan calls for is making sure that someone can prove they can procure, whether it's them or their employers, private health insurance. Just like you have to have an ID card to get your state tags for your car, you need to have an ID card in order to get into the guest-worker program. It shows that you have private health insurance.
We have to look at the people who pay FICA, Social Security taxes and people who don’t. The 1099 [contract labor] workforce that circumvents the system is damaging our economy. I can tell you examples of contractors in Texas who have followed the rule of law, but have been penalized because the system is broken and not everybody is on a level playing field.
Both sides of the aisle have passed the buck since 1986. How do we make a long-term solution to fix the problem?
TT: Going back to securing the border. It’s been written a lot that the Obama administration has deported more individuals in three years than [President George W.] Bush did in eight. Secure Communities is now in place in every county, and the current administration wants to make it nationwide. Even some Republican officials admit there are more [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] officers and Border Patrol officers than ever. Why is the border still not secure, in your opinion?
Bailey: We have over 20,000 miles of border space with Canada and Mexico, not including international waters. The city of New York has over 44,000 cops patrolling the city. So we have a major problem as far as boots on the ground. We believe in working with state and local government. The federal government could federally support programs and work together on accomplishing a 100-percent secure border. We have to look at every option possible and start working together instead of pointing fingers. Both sides of the aisle are drawing a line in the sand, and in the meantime the problem gets worse.