Bud Kennedy

June 7, 2014

‘Texas Solution’ guest-worker plan sent to GOP exile

Opponents say enforcement is more important than economic development, but will voters agree?

Texas Republicans no longer recommend any practical solution to illegal immigration.

That is, besides waving picket-fence signs, shouting “No amnesty!” and calling a work-visa plan for peaceful, productive illegal immigrants the same as trading with terrorists.

The much-ballyhooed, market-based “Texas Solution” guest-worker economic plan for America, passed two years ago, was discarded Saturday like many of the business-minded conservatives who supported it.

Instead, delegates to the party’s biennial contrarian convention now recommend America follow a policy based more on restricting and punishing Texas’ 1-million-plus illegal immigrant workers and their employers and industries, not on registering or authorizing them.

Along the way, Republicans also gave Texas Democrats exactly what they wanted for the fall: a rival party that wants to turn employers and law officers into federal snitches, lock up many Hispanic voters’ parents and relatives, and deny Texas-schooled children the same college tuition rates as their classmates.

Mayor Art Martinez de Vara of the small San Antonio suburb of Von Ormy called it “dinosaur politics.”

“It’s the last gasp of a dying faction of the party,” he said after delegates voted roughly 60-40 to amend a compromise just finished that morning and replace it with an even more enforcement-minded version.

“If we let them dominate the party,” he said, “they will drag it into extinction along with them.”

Dallas and Tarrant County Republicans, staying into the late afternoon unlike South Texas voters who thought the first compromise was enough, voted more than 2-to-1 to downplay work visas and emphasize enforcement.

Keller Republican Sara Legvold, an immigration-restriction activist who represented much of Tarrant County on the platform committee, said the revisions were meant as a message to Congress, not to Texas or to illegal immigrants’ voting families, children and employers.

“It was the right message to send to Washington,” she said without explanation.

“You’re going to call us white supremacists, white nationalists and all kinds of names. But this was the right thing to do.”

Moments earlier, Houston insurance agency owner Norman Adams of Houston-based Texans for Sensible Immigration Policy said delegates were influenced by immigration-enforcement groups with unsavory connections.

“They are listening to the white supremacists and the zero-population-growth extremists,” Adams said.

“The people behind this aren’t just against illegal immigration. They want no immigration of any kind.”

All weekend, the Grapevine-based NE Tarrant Tea Party had distributed handouts from Illinois-based Eagle Forum opposing immigration of any kind, saying mass legal immigration “dooms” efforts to shift the party toward conservatives.

And — oh, sure — the platform eventually mentions the possibility of work visas.

But only after the border is “verifiably secure.”

That’s the Republican political version of the old tavern sign saying, “Free beer tomorrow.”

There is no such thing as a secure border, so there will never be work visas.

For Adams, who worked late into the night two years ago to pass the guest-worker plan with outspoken support from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, it was a defeat but not the end.

“I just got my rear kicked,” he said after the final vote was announced.

By Sunday morning, he was claiming a tie, saying conciliatory language in the 2012 platform plank remained along with the possibility of work visas. He called the change “one step back after two steps forward.”

Adams’ argument in 2012 was that guest workers and their employers should be identified, taxed and policed, and continue contributing to the economy. A 2005 study by the Texas comptroller’s office estimated that illegal workers and employers generate $17.7 billion yearly in economic development.

After the vote Saturday, he said: “I think the whole Republican Party just set itself up for trouble. … What kind of message does this send to Hispanic voters?”

Earlier, lieutenant governor candidate and border hawk Dan Patrick told Republicans not to worry about Hispanic voters.

“They are with us,” he said.

He might check again.

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