Calling Fort Worth a city full of dreams and opportunities, Mayor Betsy Price said Tuesday that the hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers awaiting word on their legal status deserve a solution.
In her seventh State of the City address since being elected mayor, Price called on the city's business and community leaders to support immigration reform that includes a compassionate and responsible solution for recipients of DACA. Price made her remarks during an annual Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
"My prayers are that our nation's leaders will truly open their hearts and minds to compromise, collaboration and most of all compassion," Price said. "It's an issue that needs to be settled. I'm concerned about our Hispanic and immigrant communities. I hope all of you will join me in expressing support for immigration reform at the national level that prioritizes families and works to find a reasonable responsible solution to DACA."
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program ends March 5, but federal court challenges could keep the program going into June. Congress and President Donald Trump have been unable to reach a solution to replace DACA, which was put in place during the Obama administration to protect young adults brought to the country illegally as children.
Price made her comments when she spoke to the status of Fort Worth's own Race and Culture Task Force, a committee appointed last fall to look into race relations and diversity issues in the city. The group is expected to have an interim report to the council this spring.
"When a portion of our community don't believe they have a voice, if they feel opportunity has passed them by, a divide does grow," Price said. "We'd be fooling ourselves to ignore the fact that disparity still exists in Fort Worth. This council is committed to do what it takes to heal that divide."
Her 50-minute speech was punctuated by three videos featuring students, employees and small-business owners touting the values of living in Fort Worth. More than 1,300 business and community leaders, one of largest crowds in recent years, attended the luncheon.
Price touched on a wide range of issues, including homelessness, economic development, keeping the city's streets safe, early childhood education and the importance of attracting new businesses as well as retaining those already here.
She also talked about child care, calling on business leaders to address the concerns of their workers, particularly the cost.
"Quality, accessible child care is truly a critical workforce issue," Price said. "I'm calling on you today to give serious thought to what your business might do to help change the culture of child care, to make it easier for men and women to be in the workforce and know that their child is going to be well-educated."
She also delved into transit issues, another hot button topic being addressed by the City Council. Price said expanding transit options in Fort Worth and improving mobility across Dallas-Fort Worth remain a priority to her.
But that won't come with a "blank check," but through innovation and thinking "bigger" about transportation. She said transit needs to be a comprehensive multimodal system, not just fixed-route buses. And it must go beyond the needs of Fort Worth and Tarrant County and be a fixed-route system that spans the region, Price said.
"A successful regional system is the answer," Price said. "Heck, in my lifetime ... I'd love to tie this whole region together with DART so people can go seamlessly between us," she said, pointing to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who attended the luncheon.
The crowd gave her rousing applause when she said, "Believe it or not, I-35 will be finished in December of this year," referring to the gridlock that construction has caused the past few years on Interstate 35W north of downtown and up through the Alliance corridor.
"The state of our city is very, very strong. Friends, we have so much to be thankful for," Price said. But, she added, "We have work to do."
That includes fixing the city’s growing unfunded pension liability, now $1.6 billion, Price said.
Taxpayers may have to shell out millions of dollars to shore up the fund. A task force addressing the pension issue is slated to have a preliminary report to the council in May.
“We didn’t create this problem, but we're sure going to fix it, and we're going to fix it locally," she said. "This is not just about protecting our employees' future retirement plans; it's also about protecting taxpayers and maintaining critical city services."
The chamber announced the 2018 winners of its Small Business Awards during the luncheon.
They were: Emerging Business - Site Barricades, www.sitebarricades.com, a full-service traffic control company; 1-10 employees - The Paisley Heart, thepaisleyheart.com, online shopping with personal service catering to women; 11-50 employees - Pointwise, www.pointwise.com, engineering software developer for computational fluid dynamics simulations; and, 51-150 employees - BorrowWorks, borrowworks.com, loan servicing and marketing for lenders and banks.
Sandra Baker: 817-390-7727, @SandraBakerFWST