EL PASO — Gubernatorial candidate and Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis said Thursday that state leaders can keep border security a priority while not alienating those communities if local officials are part of the conversation.
Davis, D-Fort Worth, began a two-day border tour at El Paso Community College’s Transmountain campus, where she added that allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses is a public-safety issue, and advocated for updating a study on the economic impact of undocumented immigration in Texas.
Flanked by El Paso Democratic state Sen. José Rodríguez, who has been an outspoken critic of what he says is the GOP’s labeling of the border a “war zone,” Davis said the fact that El Paso ranks as the safest city of its size is proof local officials should be kept in the loop on security decisions.
“[The ranking] is something to be proud of and we need to respect the fact that El Pasoans understand how to keep the community safe and they should be part of a decision with regard [to] how to keep our borders safe as well,” she said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s border security budget for the current biennium is about $83 million, but that total does not include what was allotted to other state law enforcement agencies or federal grants Texas receives for border security. Davis said border security goes beyond boots on the ground, and she touted Senate Bill 1649, legislation she co-authored that appropriated $4 million for district attorneys' offices on the border to help “get those cases through the pipeline,” she said.
Davis also agreed with four of the five candidates for state comptroller, including three Republicans, that studying the effects of unauthorized immigration on the state’s coffers would bring more to the conversation on immigration reform. The most recent data on that issue is from 2006 and concluded that if the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants who lived in Texas in 2005 were deported, Texas would have lost about $17.7 billion in gross domestic product that year. It also reflected that undocumented immigrants produced more in-state revenue — about $1.58 billion that year — than the $1.16 billion they cost by using state services.
“Having more information is better, and I absolutely think we should answer the question about the economic impact of helping to create a path to citizenship in the state of Texas and throughout the country,” she said. “Comprehensive immigration reform can’t really occur unless we have the data that demonstrates that it’s important to do so.” She added that she supports Texas’ current policy that allows undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition.
On the issue of driver’s licenses, the senator said it’s a common-sense approach to public safety. Texas law currently requires proof of citizenship or legal status to obtain or renew a driver’s license or ID card, except for certain undocumented immigrants who have been granted deferred action. An amendment that would have changed the policy during the first called special session of the 83rd Legislature failed but drew some bipartisan support. Davis credits that shift from the 2011 session, when more than 100 immigration-enforcement bills were filed, to support from the business and law enforcement communities.
“We’re hearing it’s an important issue, and if people are going to be on the road, they need to be empowered with the tools to be safe. And they need to be insured,” she said.
Davis’ main focus on campus on Thursday was education, and she lobbed criticism at Texas' Republican leaders, who she said advocated not funding enrollment growth in public schools to the tune of more than $5 billion.
“A penny wise is a pound foolish,” she said. “That’s sort of the path we’ve been on in this state, and I hope to turn that around.”
The senator will visit a transitional living center for veterans on Friday before going to Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley next week.