Immigration bills hot topic for Legislature

Jan. 1, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated Dec. 31, 2010 at 7:01 p.m.

Immigration issues promise to be hot during the upcoming Texas legislative session.

"We have an excellent chance of passing a package of immigration laws," said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. "This isn't about any issue except for law and order and keeping our communities safe."

About 24 bills related to immigration have been filed between the House and Senate.


One bill already sparking debate is the Arizona-styled House Bill 296.

Sponsored by state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, the bill states that during any detention or arrest made by a peace officer or law enforcement agency, the officer would be able to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person detained or arrested.

However, the investigation of a person's immigration status may not serve as the grounds for the detention or arrest.

Berman said his bill eliminates the discretion mandate of the bill, which in the case of the Arizona bill led a federal judge to find the first part of the bill to be unconstitutional because it led to profiling.

"They will ask everybody the same question about their immigration status," said Berman.


Berman also takes on illegal immigration in HB 292, which seeks to deny birth certificates to babies born of illegal-immigrant parents.

"People think if you are born in the United States, you are automatically given citizenship by the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That's not what it is," said Berman. "There are 300,000 birthright citizenships given to children of illegal aliens whose parents committed crime against the U.S. by violating our borders, and we reward them with citizenship for their children."

He continued, "It says children of former slaves are indeed U.S. citizens. It has nothing to do with illegal aliens. In fact, it has nothing to do with legal aliens."

If the bill passes, Berman said he expects to be sued by organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union or La Raza.

"We want to be sued in federal court so the attorney general can take it to the Supreme Court, and a judge can read the amendment and realize the 14th Amendment doesn't apply to foreigners."


Increased transparency with information regarding the citizenship status of public school students is also being sought after during this year's legislative session in HB 22.

"The taxpayers are the ones who are paying the tab for these children to be educated. By law, if the children are here, then they must be educated. I'm not disputing that, but I do think it's grossly unfair to ask taxpayers to pay for something they didn't know they were paying for," said state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, who sponsored HB 22.

"If you're going to ask taxpayers to pick up the tab, they at least deserve to know what they are paying for."


Additionally, enforcing government entities and state contractors to use the E-verify system, which is operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration, to verify legal status also has also received the support of legislators in both chambers.

"This will effectively ensure that Texas employs a legal workforce," said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

"E-verify is not a cure-all, but it does verify that a Social Security is a good number," said state Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton.


The plethora of immigration bills have caught the eye of immigration advocacy groups around the state.

"It looks like it's going to be a very anti-immigrant session based on the pre-filed bills," said Louie Gilot, executive director of El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. "Texas has always been conservative, but somewhat open about embracing immigration. We've become very polarized on the issue this political year, and it has transferred to the state level after the last elections."

Maria Jimenez, one of the founders of the Hispanic advocacy group Houston United, expressed similar sentiments.

"There is not a single bill that is favorable. Some of them are extreme. It's not just about the Arizona-style bill, but there are bills that deny citizenship and deny undocumented students who have gone through the school system in-state tuition," said Jimenez. "There are numerous bills that will have a dramatic impact on communities throughout the state."

Despite the opposition, Riddle remains confident about the bills' futures.

"I think the likelihood is very good. The liberal left wants to portray them as being about race or the color of skin. I disagree strongly. It has nothing to do with that," said Riddle. "The people of Texas are sick and tired of political correctness, and crime going through the roof and taxpayers' money being spent."



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