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Tea Party Support for Immigration Reform Could Affect State GOP Convention

Texas conservatives said Wednesday’s endorsement of immigration reform by a national Tea Party leader could help GOP leaders preserve an immigration policy recommendation in the party's platform that was adopted two years ago.

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Texas Republicans said Wednesday’s endorsement of immigration reform by a national Tea Party leader should help conservatives keep the immigration policy the state’s Republican party adopted two years ago.

Mudslinging and harsh rhetoric on immigration by Republican candidates has sparked concern among some in the GOP that when it convenes next month, the Texas party might roll back the moderate position in took in 2012. That position, dubbed the "Texas Solution," included support for a secure border, along with alternatives to mass deportations and a national guest-worker program.

It was hailed by many immigration advocates as a sign that the GOP was shedding its traditional hardline stance on the issue, a position that had demanded security before immigration reform.

On Wednesday, Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express, an influential national group that backs conservative candidates, told reporters during a conference call that it was time for conservatives to push ahead.

“We have a broken immigration system; it isn’t working. It’s flooding us with illegal immigrants, weakening our economy,” he said. 

There are an estimated 11.5 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including about 2 million in Texas.

Brad Bailey, a GOP strategist and cofounder of the Texas Immigration Solution, a conservative group that advocates immigration reform, said Russo’s support could help drown out the vocal minority in Texas who see mass deportation as the only solution.

“The more voices we have in support of this, the better it is,” he said. During a conference call with reporters, Bailey said the convention gives Republican stakeholders more time to discuss an issue.

“We have the ability to explain what the details of the Texas Solution are and what they are not,” he said. “This is not amnesty in any way, shape or form. This is a guest-worker program with very strict requirements, including background checks.”

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a key figure in recruiting supporters for the party’s immigration platform in 2012, said he was “cautiously optimistic” the position would hold. He said some Republicans could be swayed if the platform is explained clearly. But others, he added, are unyielding in their opposition . 

“For lack of a better term, they are just innately biased on the whole concept,” he said. “I guess you can call them nativists. They keep coming back to a bumper-sticker cliché.”

In an op-ed published Wednesday by Roll Call, Russo said conservatives should not allow the “misty-eyed ideals of some of the liberal do-gooder reformers” to have their way on immigration.

Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, said the humane approach would be to allow students who came to the U.S. illegally a chance to earn citizenship. “The only country those kids know is America. Let’s come up with a common-sense solution,” he said.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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