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Texas Standing Out on Multiple Fronts in Immigration Debate

Texas is showing how unique it is when it comes to matters of immigration. Statistics say it has more undocumented immigrants in detention centers than any other state. And organizers of a virtual march for immigration reform say the state is the perfect spot to host related events.

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As Congress wades deeper into the debate over comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Texas is standing out both for enforcement within its borders and for its appeal to 21st century activists who are seeking an overhaul to the country’s system.

Data released this week from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, based at Syracuse University, shows that more undocumented immigrants are detained and prosecuted in Texas than any other state. It comes as the cities of Austin and San Antonio were chosen by a bipartisan advocacy group to co-host events this week as part of a national digital march in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

The TRAC data shows that for November and December — the most recent information available — Texas had more than 24,800 immigrants in detention. The figure exceeds the three other southwest border states combined; Arizona ranked second in the nation with about 11,400, California was third with 10,230 and New Mexico was ranked 17th with about 570. Across the country, about 66,300 immigrants were in detention.

There are about 1.6 million undocumented immigrants in Texas, according to a 2010 count by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Syracuse notes that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, has not released information on where the immigrants were arrested.

“State location is therefore based on where ICE recorded the person” entering its custody, the report says. “Presumably this location would for most situations be close to where the individual was arrested.”

The report also notes that its figures don’t necessarily reflect the total number of immigrants detained by ICE or turned over to its custody by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the U.S. Border Patrol.

“It is important to note that if Customs and Border Protection apprehends someone and immediately deports that individual, he or she will not show up in the statistics reported here,” the report’s authors say. “This is because these individuals were never detained long enough to be turned over to ICE for custody.”

During the first six months of the current federal fiscal year, which began in October, courts in Texas have also prosecuted more immigration-related cases than their counterparts across the country, according to TRAC data. The most common offenses prosecuted are entry at an improper time or place, re-entry of a deported immigrant and bringing in or harboring an illegal immigrant.

The country’s top two federal judicial districts for immigration-related prosecutions are in Texas, and taken together, their case total surpasses the next eight combined. The Southern District of Texas, which extends from Houston south to Laredo and the coastal bend, prosecuted 17,022 cases, while the Western District of Texas, which includes El Paso, prosecuted 13,379. The Northern District in Dallas is also in the top 10, although considerably below the border region areas, with 175.

Across the country, there were about 50,500 prosecutions in that six-month time frame. If the pace continues, there will be about 10 percent more prosecutions this fiscal year than in 2012.

Bridging Party Lines

A national group has tapped two Texas cities to host bipartisan events aimed at promoting comprehensive immigration reform through social media.

Wednesday and Thursday’s March for Innovation — a virtual march on Washington using Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other sites, and organized by high-tech industry leaders and current and former elected officials — seeks to communicate to Congress the need for reform and its economic benefits. Organizers and participants will use online chat forums, like Google Hangouts, Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) and Twitter town halls, to discuss the issues and communicate their ideas to members of Congress and other stakeholders.

“We march to ensure that the broad immigration bills being considered in Congress include provisions to boost innovation and entrepreneurship, and we march to seize the moment and get comprehensive immigration reform passed,” the group says on its website.

Participants can take part nationally through social media, but the event will also put on four “pass the baton” events that will be livestreamed. In Austin, supporters will meet on Wednesday at uShip Inc. and later in the day at Silver Fox Studios in San Antonio. The other two cities hosting "pass the baton" events are New York and San Francisco.

The events will incorporate the use of the online chat rooms and feature in-person panel discussions that include filmmakers, CEOs and elected officials.

Jeremy Robbins, an aide to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the director of the Partnership for a New American Economy — a bipartisan coalition led by Bloomberg whose members include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and El Paso Mayor John Cook — said the Texas cities were chosen because Austin is at the forefront of technological advancements and San Antonio holds an unprecedented energy for comprehensive immigration reform.

“We wanted to do some fixed events, especially in hubs of social media innovation and entrepreneurship activity,” Robbins said. “This is a march about comprehensive immigration reform, and it’s trying to use the new channels of social media to do that so California, New York and Texas were the hubs we were looking for.”

The partnership is joined in its efforts by Republicans for Immigration Reform, which is chaired by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and President Obama’s Organizing for Action.

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