We have liveblogged of the sessions from The 2013 Texas Tribune Festival's Immigration track. The sessions included panels on immigration reform, Latinos and the Republican Party, securing the border, and the Voting Rights Act.
Featured speakers include state Reps. Rafael Anchia, Larry Gonzales and Marisa Márquez, Stratfor Vice President Fred Upton, former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and Nina Perales, vice president of Litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Look below for highlights of the sessions, which were held on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
With: Rafael Anchia, Brad Bailey, Ana Hernandez Luna, Roger Williams and Julián Aguilar (mod.)
Former state Rep. Jose Aliseda is replacing U.S. Rep. Roger Williams on the panel. Williams had to stay back in Washington for the budget debate.
This morning's session kicks off with discussion of a pathway to citizenship for illegal and legal immigrants. Aguilar references resolution authored by Anchia and Hernandez Luna. "It was a very conservative document," Anchia said. "I will say that I was very disappointed this session." They took out citizenship language in order to attract more conservative support, he said, but it still didn't pass. Republicans didn't know how to talk about it and were scared of the ramifications in their primaries, he said.
Now on to sanctuary cities with a question about big Republican donors opposing the bill because of the economic ramifications. "The reality was that sanctuary cities was a nothing bill," Aliseda said, adding the fault lies with both parties in failing to enact meaningful immigration reform. "We have these big donors pushing the Republican Party, and you have these special interests pulling the Democratic Party." Bailey points out that there are many business owners who support immigration reform and "aren't just concerned about cheap labor."
Immigration isn't that complicated of an issue to solve, Anchia said, adding that there's a lack of political will to pass a reform package. "People get very emotional about immigration, but this is nothing but macroeconomic labor flows" across countries, he said. "Let's just fix it. " Bailey said that we have a major labor shortage and that it can't be solved by just paying people more. "They get the fringe benefits of welfare in the welfare state we live in," he said. Aliseda agreed, suggesting that if there were fewer government benefits that subsidize the unemployed, more American citizens would want to work instead of sitting at home "playing video games."
Amnesty means "to get ahead in line to stay here," Aliseda said, calling for "employer sanctions" enforcing immigration laws on what he called the magnet (jobs) drawing illegal immigrants here. Anchia said that if the U.S. tried to stop all of the people who are trying to come here to work, there wouldn't be enough resources to go after the bad guys like drug dealers. He disagreed that amnesty allows illegal immigrants to cut in front of legal ones, criticizing Aliseda for spreading misinformation. Bailey jumped in, saying that amnesty "is a modern-day scarlet letter in our party" that prevents GOP candidates from talking about immigration reform, even if it's something they support.
Getting back to Anchia and Hernadez Luna's resolution, Bailey said it could have been handled differently. He said they should have brought in more Republicans earlier to build trust so that if they did support it, more extreme measures wouldn't be added in later on. "People get scared of the back mic, and what Trey Martinez Fischer is going to do to them," he said.
Aliseda challenged Anchia's earlier comment that it would be impossible to stop all illegal immigration. If the U.S. really tried, he said, it would be able to stop them. "Are you suggesting we seal our borders?" Anchia responded. "That's the most preposterous thing I have ever heard."
Now on to audience questions. "How do you protect the worker in the guest-worker program?" is the first. Bailey said states should take over implementing them. "We know our employers, and we know our workforce," he said, adding that a level playing field that ensures all the appropriate regulations are enforced is important.
Currently we try to "do immigration on the cheap," Anchia said, and we don't fund anything except for border security and leave no resources for things like visa enforcement. Aliseda said he "agrees 100 percent" and that he doesn't understand why there is no political will to make sure regulations are being followed.
Here's a question from a teacher. He said he was frustrated because it seems the debate over immigration reform isn't about how it's going to work, it's about whether or not it's going to be blocked. Anchia said that's because it's difficult for politicians to think beyond the short-term gain. Bailey added that labor unions also obstruct reforms from the left.
The panel concludes with a last word from Aliseda. He said Republicans and Democrats are both driven by the fact that the group who would become citizens through immigration would likely be a built-in constituency for Democrats. "Both parties put these show bills up on the stage to divide each other," he said.
With: Adryana Boyne, Larry Gonzales, Marisa Márquez, Alfonso "Poncho" Nevárez, Aaron Peña and Corrie MacLaggan (mod.)
In response to a question about Republicans and the party’s perceived hostility toward Latinos, Boyne uses voter ID as an example. She says it’s widely accepted by most, including liberals and Hispanics. Peña concedes that the rhetoric coming from some members of his party is hostile, and he says it needs to change or the Republican Party in the state will vanish.
Nevárez says the extreme wing of the party is “driving the train.” Marquez said Latinos are not monolithic; priorities include immigration, women’s issues, health care and education.
Boyne disagrees with Marquez’s analysis that the abortion debate is “red meat” for the base and says that elected officials need to concentrate on the state’s more pressing issues. The issue is getting touchy as Boyne asks to not be interrupted, defends her stance against abortion. Peña veers back to demographics, adding that Hispanics from the Valley, El Paso and Central Texas are different. He says 62 percent of Hispanics identify as “pro-life.” Nevárez says that although that might be true, it’s not going to tilt the scales in the GOP’s favor.
Gonzales goes back to messaging. “I believe that the Republican Party is right on that issue. But we lost a media war.” Discussion shifts to state Sen. Wendy Davis’ future plans, and he says the abortion issue is going to cost her statewide. Gonzales concedes that more Catholics are admitting to being pro-choice.
Peña laments that people vote based on familiarity. He says that GOP voters might likely vote for a candidate named “Jones” rather than “Garza.” “We’re really coalition candidates. We need Anglos and Hispanics until polarized voting goes away.
MacLaggan asks about a prominent Hispanic Latino, Sen. Ted Cruz. Marquez and Nevárez leave their seats – in jest - and the crowd chuckles.
Boyne says Cruz’s election was historic. She says Cruz has taken a lot of heat, but most stand behind him because he “represents what he said he would represent.” Gonzales said he doesn’t view Cruz as a Hispanic flag bearer, because that’s not what Cruz said he would represent. His comments go hand in hand with Gonzales’ earlier assertion that he’s a Republican who happens to be Hispanic.
Nevárez said that Latinos are very affectionate people and that Cruz represents a very uncomfortable abrazo, or hug, toward Hispanics.
Peña says Cruz deserves his “props”. "Yes, Ted may be more conservative than a majority of Hispanics … but he broke the glass ceiling. I respect him for what he’s achieved."
Boyne lashes out at Nevárez for saying that Democrats are turning out the vote by opposing voter ID. Asks him why he is for voter fraud. Nevárez suggests that she should step outside if she wants to give a “stump speech.”
The discussion continues, and Nevárez says voter ID limits opportunities at the ballot box.
“I don’t have a problem with a Hispanic who votes for a Republican,” he said. “But I have a very deep-seeded problem when we start doing legislation trying to solve problems that don’t exist.”
Gonzales says the GOP isn’t doing enough to get Hispanics to vote, and isn’t doing enough to get people to vote generally.
“Every party, everybody here, has a responsibility to make sure people vote, he says. He says local elections – school boards and county and city races - are the most important. “Your money and your children,” he says.
Questioner asks if there is room for a growing Libertarian movement within the GOP ranks. Peña says “absolutely.” Republicans had better get the message, he adds. “Many of the liberals can agree with the Libertarian message on social issues and if the traditional GOP doesn’t come to that conclusion, they will lose.”
Marquez says that the GOP’s recruitement efforts fall flat when the party continues to cut public ed and other programs that curtail chances for Hispanics. Gonzales and Peña say they didn’t cast those votes to cut funding. Nevárez concedes that is true but says their more moderate voices are drowned out by the extreme wing of the party.
Peña gets last word: “On racist comments we need to denounce them.”
With: Fred Burton, Michael McCaul, Doris Meissner, Beto O'Rourke, Todd Staples and Julián Aguilar (mod.)
McCaul isn't able to attend because of the budget debate in Washington.
Aguilar asks what apprehension numbers on the border tell us about the safety and security situation on the border.
Meissner says apprehensions don't tell you everything you need to know about the effectiveness of border enforcement. The Border Patrol, she says, has enormous pressure to report more. She said dropping numbers indicate that fewer people are trying to cross the border or that there is more enforcement. Both are happening now, she said, leading to historic lows in apprehensions over the last four years.
Meissner says there's a shift of immigrants from Mexico to immigrants from Central American countries. It's a structural shift, she said.
Aguilar asks about the accuracy of reports from U.S. border cities that they are among the safest.
Burton says better data about crimes like kidnapping would provide a better lens through which to view border crime.
"I don't think we have a very good baseline," he said.
Sheriffs on the border say there are cross-border abductions, but they are rarely reported because people are scared.
Aguilar asks Staples to discuss his talks with farmers along the border who are concerned about illegal immigration coming through their land.
Staples said the Obama administration has been inaccurate when it says the border is safer now than ever.
Meissner said that overall, the border is safer, from the Pacific Ocean to Brownsville and the Gulf of Mexico.
What's troubling about the debate over the border, she said, is that it's not taken in context of history; $18 billion is spent annually on border security.
Congress should take credit for major, sustained investment.
"Until you combine that border enforcement with other policy measures that begin to make it possible for people to come to the country legally for work reasons ... you cannot do this job entirely with border enforcement," she said.
The rhetoric of border enforcement before policy changes has to change, she said.
Staples said if we're going to solve the immigration problem have to ask whether the 12 million people here came for work or for something else.
The citizenship process, he said, is a different conversation from border security.
Burton said DPS is doing a great job of helping with border enforcement, trying to fill the gaps left by the federal government.
Aguilar asks whether the DPS with its checkpoints along the border is crossing the line from law enforcement into immigration enforcement.
Burton said no. They are concerned with safety, he said, not immigration.
Aguilar asks whether "OTMs" — immigrants who are from other than Mexico countries — pose a larger risk than immigrants from Mexico.
Meissner said those people often come from small, poor governments.
"It's a horrific situation," she said of Central American travelers coming up across Mexico.
"By and large these people are not terrorists," she said.
Mexico, Burton said, is so focused on its internal fight against cartels that it doesn't pay attention to things like foreign intelligence.
Meissner said there's a public crisis of confidence when it comes to immigration enforcement issues.
"It is a shared strong view of the public that you have to have effective rules and effectively enforce them" she said.
There's not much more that can be done on the security front, she said, until some other process is in place.
The Border Patrol, she said, is doing a good job, but security at ports of entry are not doing so well because the government hasn't invested.
Staples said his concern is that the country is more reactive than proactive.
Burton says systemic security issues need to be fixed.
The cartels, he said, are making an extraordinary amount of money from human trafficking.
Meissner said you always need vigilance in law enforcement when you're dealing with incredibly wealthy corrupters like the cartels. The solution, she said, is to not build up too fast.
"That is a recipe for problems," she said.
Instead of more ramping up of border forces, she said, the U.S. needs to build on at reasonable levels.
Meissner says there will always be probes of avenues to gain entry into the country as long as it is difficult to do so.
The political asylum system in place now, she said, is pretty up to date in addressing requests. Generally, though, trying to get away from violence in Mexico would not be a basis for granting asylum.
Aguilar asks Burton to discuss what he can about the security situation in Mexico.
"The Mexican government certainly has made some positive steps," he said, adding that there are also concerted efforts by the cartels to limit the reporting on what is going on because the bulk of the journalists have been run out of the country.
The Juarez plaza, he said, remains a hotspot.
When things appear quiet, he said, one cartel has taken control of an area. When there's violence, that means the area is in dispute.
An audience member asks about marijuana policies and if we legalized, taxed and regulated the drug, would that reduce cartel power and violence? (Loud applause along with laughs)
Staples says he doesn't think that's the way to go. He said the cartels are committed, and if drugs aren't the product, they will find something else.
Burton asks where you draw the line when you start legalizing drugs.
"It's just not that simple," he said.
An audience member asks about when the U.S. government will start building a wall along the Canadian border like it has along the Mexican border?
Meissner says the Canadian border is a different place, much more like the U.S. than Mexico is.
Audience questioner asks about policies that would address the root problems of American companies hiring people illegally and consuming drugs.
Staples says Americans should embrace legal immigration and make it less advantageous for employers to hire illegal immigrants. He also said the country's antiquated visa system needs reform.
Audience questioner asks what opportunities exist for reporting and cooperation on both sides of the border.
Staples said there's been a concerted effort by cartels to target journalists, which means the public doesn't know the extent of the violence.
Aguilar said Mexican reporters risk their lives daily to tell stories about the violence and corruption there.
In response to a question about militarizing the border, Meissner said, we can't enforce our way out of the problems on the border.
She said we've got to have workplace enforcement and legal ways to come here.
"The pressure is coming from ways that should be addressed with other policy responses," she said.
Meissner said Mexico is changing quickly and positively.
"They are beginning to deal with these issues," she said. "Their political system has difficulties, but look at our system."
The final questioner asks why a wall along the border isn't the solution.
Burton says there are too many ways around such a structure and it won't work because if you build a 12-foot wall, people will just get 13-foot ladders.
With: Nina Perales, Ana Reyes, David Schenck, Hans von Spakovsky and James Henson (mod.)
Henson starts off by welcoming guests and states that, for reasons unknown, the VRA panel is included in the immigration track.
Von Spakovsky says that contrary to what has been reported, the SCOTUS did not find the VRA unconstitutional. He says that instead, it found that the formula to determine what states and territories are covered under Section 5 of the act was outdated and unconstitutional. Section 5 mandates that states and territories with a history of racial discrimination must have changes to voting laws approved by the Department of Justice or a federal three-judge panel.
Perales says that the SCOTUS case, Shelby v. Holder, was a huge decision, especially in Texas. Pre-clearance is still intact, but without coverage formulas, it is a shell of what it was. She cites a civil rights activist who said, “We still have the car, we don’t have the keys.”
Discusses bail-in provision, which is still around. If a court finds that a jurisdiction has violated a group or person’s voting rights, the court has the power to determine those issues.
Henson asks Reyes why the VRA is relevant. Reyes, who was recently elected to the Farmers Branch city council, says she is not an expert but includes her personal story in her explanation. “We’re in 2013. For me to be the first person of color to be able to represent my community … I think that is unacceptable.”
Von Spakovsky says that with Section 2 still in tact, there is still a tool in place to protect voting rights. He says that Section 5 is unfair to states like Texas and Mississippi, which aren’t the same places they were in 1965, when the VRA was enacted.
The court also pointed out that when it comes to elected black officials, coverage states have the largest proportion.
Perales said she disagreed with everything von Spakovsky said. She said it’s true that there is still protections for people who have resources to sue.
“As far as I know there is no rich, sugar daddy in Farmers Branch that could have foot the bill.” Says the obligation is on community to finance a lawsuit, and they are likely very expensive.
Schenk says stop treating the states differently. If it’s such a good thing, every state in the country should be covered by Section 5.
“It requires disparate treatment on the basis of race,” he says.
Perales said race is still very relevant and important in elections. The VRA isn’t about partisanship because in nonpartisan elections, you still see race playing a role, she says.
Citing an example of the DOJ’s broad brush with respect to VRA: “In 2009, the DOJ objected to small change in North Carolina,” said von Spakovsky. Sixty-five percent of the voters there are black. They voted 2 to 1 to change elections from partisan to nonpartisan.
“The objection letter is astonishing reading,” he said. “The black voters would not know who to vote for without a party label on the ballot,” he said of the DOJ’s explanation.
Questioner asks what the standard is for bail-in provision. What will make or break whether Texas is back in?
Perales says you have to have a lawsuit, and a court has to find unconstitutional conduct. The provision is not well litigated, she adds, as there have only been about 10 bail-ins over time. Schenck says he agrees there has to be a constitutional violation but it has to be along the lines of “you’re a knuckle-dragging racist.”
Von Spakovsky says there is about eight years of experience with the Georgia voter ID law, which is similar to Texas' law. He says data contradicts the myth that turnout will decrease. He says Hispanic turnout has increased over time.
Perales agrees and disagrees. Georgia is a fast-growing state, so increase in turnout is a natural byproduct.