FORT WORTH — Supporters held signs shaped like a fence with a lock on it, as state Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, gave a speech that largely focused on border security and immigration during the final day of the Texas GOP convention.
While addressing thousands of delegates, Patrick called for securing the Texas-Mexico border before addressing a solution to the nation’s broken immigration system. Patrick, who has previously come under fire for describing the influx of undocumented immigrants to Texas as an "illegal invasion," also said that Republicans could find common ground with Hispanics on the issue.
“The idea that we’re not going to be able to attract Hispanic voters to our party over immigration is wrong,” Patrick said. “We’re not against immigration, we’re against illegal immigration.”
Patrick came under fire from both Democrats and Republicans after repeatedly using the phrase “illegal invasion” during a debate in the primary election, in which he was pitted against three other Republican candidates.
At the convention, Patrick avoided the phrase and instead called on Republicans to reach out to Hispanic voters by telling them “that we stand with them for the future of their family” and that only the GOP would work to secure their communities.
Voters first heard a change in Patrick’s tone on immigration during a televised debate on immigration against San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. He also struck a less hardline tone during his victory speech after defeating incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a contentious Republican primary runoff election last month, vowing to make inroads with minorities as he heads into the general election in which he will face off against Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is a Latina.
Patrick mentioned Van de Putte in his remarks, calling her “a nice lady” but adding that “she’s wrong on the issues.”
“There’s nothing she stands for that has anything in common with any Republican in Texas,” Patrick said.
Van de Putte has described Patrick’s rhetoric on immigration as “toxic” and has said it’s bad for business in the state. Some Hispanic Republicans have called Patrick’s extreme views, particularly on immigration, and said they plan to vote for Van de Putte in the general election.
Texas Democrats were quick to respond to Patrick's remarks, calling him unfit to lead because of his "extreme beliefs and dangerous records" on several issues, including immigration.
"Dan Patrick’s speech was more of the same, lots of rhetoric about the border and no solutions," said Emmanuel Garcia, communications directors for the Texas Democratic Party.
Patrick’s focus on immigration and border security comes just ahead of a floor debate on the party’s platform Saturday, which is expected to result in a lively debate on the immigration plank in the party’s platform.
Aside from language in the revamped “Texas Solution,” which calls for a provisional visa program for immigrants, delegates will also receive a “minority report” from members of the platform committee who want to use more hardline anti-immigration language. The report includes positions lifted directly from Patrick’s website.