Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Debate Over Immigration Reform Could Impact Texas GOP

Joy Diaz for KUT News

Lawmakers in Washington are on break for a few weeks. One of the big issues they’re facing when they return is a proposal to overhaul the country’s immigration system.

Some Republican leaders in border states like Arizona have embraced the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration plan, which provides a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Republicans like U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona, supported it.But Texas Republicans have been far less willing to support the bill. 

"Everyone wants to fix our broken immigration system but at the same time we shouldn’t be replicating mistakes of the past," U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said during a floor debate. "This amendment and the underlying 'Gang of Eight' bill grants immediate legalization and the border security changes will never be implemented and the border will not be secured."

Cruz’s stance against the bill does not surprise the Chair of the Texas Republican Party,Steve Munisteri. He sees two problems with the bill.

"One it didn’t have enough measurable markers as to how the security works," Munisteri said. "And then problem most Texas Republicans agree with – myself, Senator Cruz, Senator Cornyn – don’t believe citizenship should be guaranteed."

Munisteri said Republicans in Texas understand immigration helps keep population levels healthy, but that Texas – being on the border – needs to know who the immigrants are. The GOP disagrees, he says, on whether the children of undocumented immigrants should be granted citizenship, while their parents are not.

University of Texas at Austin Professor Sean Theriault is an expert on party polarization. He says that was seen during the 2012 presidential race.

"Rick Perry was certainly chastised during his run for president for being a little too lenient with the illegal immigrants," Theriault said. 

Especially when it came to a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend public colleges and universities.

"Everyday I have Texans on that border who are doing their job," Gov. Rick Perry said during a Fox News/Google GOP debate in 2012. But if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there for no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart."

Last week, the White House released an analysis of how the Senate plan could benefit each state. It suggests, for instance, the bill would create almost 45 thousand new jobs in Texas next year. It also says – under the proposal – the state would add almost 19 billion to its economic output by the year 2045.

Charles Foster is a Republican – and an expert on immigration law based in Houston. He served as immigration policy advisor to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He wants Texas Republicans in Congress to support the reform.

"It’s clear that the future will be dependent on how the Republican leadership in Texas handles this issue. And so far they’ve handled it in my opinion extremely poorly," Foster said. "If the leadership can’t speak up on this and support common-sense immigration reform, which was advocated by Republican President and Governor of Texas George W. Bush, in a couple election cycles you’ll find it very difficult to elect Republicans state wide.

But Aaron Peña, a former Texas State Representative who switched from the Democratic to the Republican party in 2010, says he welcomes the divisions with the GOP.

"They weren’t elected because it was easy. We can get a computer to do that. Or a kid," he said. "You’re elected to make tough choices. I think it’s a real opportunity, I look forward to it, let’s see what happens."

But he fears if Texas is lost to the Democrats, it will be gone for lifetimes, which could lead to a one-party country. And that, he warns, would not be healthy for Republicans or Democrats.