FORT WORTH — Texas Republicans took a harder stance on illegal immigration Saturday in approving their new party platform, veering away from a softer approach taken two years ago that included a guest worker program.Just hours after Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, urged them to be respectful but bold on the issue, delegates gathered on the last day of the state convention approved a plan that calls for securing the border, avoiding amnesty, banning in-state tuition for undocumented students and prohibiting “the knowing employment of illegal immigrants.”“We as a party must be respectful,” Patrick, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, said hours before the vote. “But we must not step back from being bold on the issue that impacts the country and this state.”Instead of supporting a guest worker program, as delegates did in 2012, Republicans approved a platform that says “once the borders are verifiably secure” and an e-verify program is enforced, a limited visa program “for non specialty industries which have demonstrated actual and persistent labor shortages” can be up and running.The platform also has many other staunchly conservative initiatives, ranging from support for openly carrying guns to a change in the plank about homosexuality to include a call for “reparative therapy” to turn gay Texans away from “their homosexual lifestyle.”“They can’t say this party won’t leave here united and determined” to elect the Republican slate in November, party Chairman Steve Munisteri said shortly before calling an end to the three-day gathering at the Fort Worth Convention Center.Democrats were quick to criticize the platform.“This disrespectful platform is clearly taking its cues from the man at the top of the ticket: Greg Abbott, who referred to South Texas communities as the ‘Third World,’ called the Dream Act ‘flawed’ and is refusing to debate on Univision,” said Zac Petkanas, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. “This truly is Greg Abbott’s party.”The platform is an outline of party beliefs that candidates do not always follow.Change on immigrationIn 2012, delegates sparked controversy when they approved a softer approach on immigration that included measures to secure the border and a call for a temporary worker program.This year, many delegates were determined to make a change because they feared that a guest worker program could lead to amnesty — something they vehemently oppose.After hours of testimony and many different proposals, the new plank was approved Saturday afternoon during a last-minute proposal on the convention floor. The measure supports ending country-of-origin quotas and the annual green card lottery and seeks to prevent the “knowing employment” of illegal immigrants. It also calls for boosting state smuggling laws and protecting law officers’ ability to ask about someone’s immigration status, and it opposes “sanctuary” cities.“It remains imperative to create fair and consistent procedures that will again enable freedom-loving, hard-working and law-abiding immigrants to join us, by providing them an efficient, practical method of legal entry, so they can lawfully take positions where their labor is needed, without exploitation or harassment,” the platform says.As for those who feared that the party’s position on immigration could push away Hispanics, the fastest-growing population group, Patrick said that’s not an issue.He said Hispanics “want the same thing we do: a secure border.”“We are not against legal immigration. We are against illegal immigration.”Patrick faces fellow state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in the November election.Marriage/homosexualityThe platform celebrates “traditional marriage,” which it defines as a “God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman.”It also calls for “reparative therapy” to help with “healing” gays.“We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle,” according to the platform. “No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.”The platform also says “homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible.” And it notes that “homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle … nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.”Removed from the 2012 platform is this phrasing: “The practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit.”William Busby, a Fort Worth delegate, said he voted against the entire platform because of the homosexuality plank.“If we are going to single out one sin, why don’t we look at others — divorce, adultery, lust, pornography,” he said.Other issuesDelegates rejected a proposal to back medical marijuana in Texas or even a study of the benefits.The platform touches on issues such as seeking an investigation into “all aspects of the Benghazi debacle,” supporting the continued use of incandescent light bulbs and calling for Texans to amend the state constitution to make the House speaker a statewide elected position. It supports a volunteer Constitutional State Militia and asks officials to ban red-light cameras.The 39-page platform also:• Urges lawmakers to pass “constitutional carry” to let Texans openly carry their firearms without licenses. “Until such time, we urge the state to re-introduce and pass legislation easing current restrictions on firearms such as open carry and campus carry.”• Proposes repealing the state lottery and opposes any expansion of gambling.• Calls for disbanding the Transportation Security Administration and putting airport security “into the more accountable and capable hands of the state and local law enforcement.”• Supports the “immediate approval and construction” of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley