As Republicans statewide gear up for a three-day convention designed to build party unity, one issue threatens to tear them apart: immigration.
Some delegates say they are not satisfied with their party’s choice two years ago to approve a controversial softer approach, which includes a guest worker program, and fear it could open the door to amnesty.
Others say that plank is crucial to the party’s future and their ability to attract the fastest growing population group in the state: Hispanics.
“Our party is solid right on pro-life, … gun rights and economics,” said Norm Adams, a Houston insurance agent and co-founder of Texans for Sensible Immigration Policy. “The irony is that we are split on an issue so simple.
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“We are a loving party,” he said. “By golly, I hope and pray we can come together at this convention and we can find a sensible solution.”
The issue of immigration is expected to be one of the hottest issues during the Republican Party of Texas’ state convention, the country’s largest political gathering.
This comes as Republicans nationwide remain concerned about comments made by former Florida Gov. and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush — father of George P. Bush, the Fort Worth Republican nominee for Texas Land Commissioner — that push for comprehensive immigration reform, something many conservatives oppose.
He has said that some who come to the United States illegally are looking for opportunities to provide for their families that perhaps they don’t have in their home countries.
“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony,” Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, has said. “It’s an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.”
As many as 11,000 delegates and alternates could attend the state GOP convention in Fort Worth Thursday through Saturday.
Two years ago, Texas delegates took a softer approach to illegal immigration through a plan known as the “Texas Solution,” calling for a temporary worker program as well as ways to secure the border.
The platform asked state lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration and bring Arizona-like immigration laws to Texas, particularly to make it a Class A misdemeanor for an undocumented worker to be in the state.
And it called for penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, sought to remove funding for cities with “sanctuary laws” and called for the elimination of day labor centers.
But delegates also called for a program to bring workers to the U.S. for a limited time when “no U.S. workers are currently available.”
The effort requires participants to pay fees and fines, pass criminal background checks, prove they can afford private health insurance and waive rights to apply for public financial assistance.
Delegates at the same time showed support for illegal immigrants who have gone through the U.S. school system, graduated from high school and chosen to serve in the military.
Some delegates have suggested returning to the 2010 platform, which called for enforcing all immigration laws.
It opposed illegal immigration and amnesty that leads to citizenship and legal status for illegal immigrants.
It called for penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers and for funding to be ended to sanctuary cities. It supported requiring all employers to use e-verify systems to verify that employees are legally in the country.
Delegate Jack Finger, from San Antonio, encouraged anyone not able to vote to return to the 2010 platform to abstain from voting completely.
The guest worker provision, he said, “is a prelude to amnesty.”
Ken Hackett, an alternate delegate from Granbury, said the platform needs to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters, particularly those who are Latino.
“The GOP needs a game changer,” he said. “Each and every GOP objective is at risk, actually worthless, if we don’t win elections.”
Some delegates had strong opinions about that plank on Tuesday.
“Illegal immigration is illegal and shouldn’t be tolerated,” Art Bedford, a delegate from Saint Augustine in East Texas, told the subcommittee on Defending Sovereignty at Home and Abroad Tuesday morning.
He and others offered a variety of suggestions on how to fix the topic addressed in the party platform, an outline of party beliefs that candidates do not always follow and are not bound by.
Some suggest getting rid of the entire “Texas Solution” plank; others say they support other measures within the plank, such as securing the U.S. borders, but call for dropping a measure creating “an effective and efficient temporary worker program.”
“A guest is someone who is invited in — someone who didn’t sneak in,” said Larry Korkmas, a delegate from Houston. “A guest is also someone who goes home.
“Our immigration system is not broken,” he said. “It’s just not enforced.”
Subcommittee workers said they are taking testimony to develop a proposal for the full party platform committee, which will approve a plan for all delegates to consider on the last day of the convention.
They cautioned delegates that, with so many differing opinions, it’s likely that no one will get exactly what they want.
“I’m looking for real solutions we can implement to reflect what you all want,” committee member Mike Gibson said.
But the goal is to craft a platform that, by the end of the convention, most delegates can support.
“At the end of the day, when we come up with a solution, everybody might not be happy,” said Dianne Costa, a delegate from Highland Village and former candidate for the 25th Congressional District.