Texas Republicans Take Harder Line On Immigration The relatively welcoming, tolerant attitude embraced by former Gov. George W. Bush is being overtaken by a flood of Arizona-style get-tough measures. And while legal challenges will surely follow if many of those measures pass, the debate in Texas is clearly shifting.
NPR logo

Texas Republicans Take Harder Line On Immigration

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134956690/134960823" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Texas Republicans Take Harder Line On Immigration

Texas Republicans Take Harder Line On Immigration

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134956690/134960823" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

While legal challenges will surely follow, if many of those measures pass, the debate in Texas is clearly shifting, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN: Texas is now more than ever in the nation's conservative vanguard. And among its most conservative leaders is House Representative Leo Berman from northeast Texas, around Tyler. Though Berman's district is about as far from the Mexico border as you can get and still be in Texas, he's leading the charge on immigration.

LEO BERMAN: I have a bill which would stop giving automatic citizenship to children born in Texas.

GOODWYN: There is a voter ID bill. Another bill would require elementary school children to prove their citizenship upon enrolling and that data would then be turned over to state and federal authorities. Berman has filed a bill that would make English the official state language.

BERMAN: Unidentified Woman: Senate Committee on Health and Human Services will come to order.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL)

GOODWYN: Unidentified Man: (Speaking Spanish)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

GOODWYN: So, Governor Bush and his man Karl Rove crafted a different strategy from their California colleagues: Hispanic-friendly.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

BLOCK: Used to be, I just pulled the lever Democrats. These days, I look for the person with a good record who believes what I believe: hard work, family, responsibility, George Bush.

GEORGE W: I appreciate that and I agree. That's why I'm working hard to make sure all our children can succeed, and I need your vote to continue.

GOODWYN: But in the halls of the Texas capitol in 2011, Bush's approach is considered insufficiently conservative by most Republicans. The one powerful interest group that still thinks Bush had it right is the Texas Association of Business.

BILL HAMMOND: In Texas, If suddenly all of the undocumented workers were simply to go back to their home of origin, it would be disastrous for the Texas economy.

GOODWYN: Bill Hammond is the president of the Texas Association of Business. It is no exaggeration to say his membership supplies the Texas Republican Party a large measure of its fiscal lifeblood. He has lots of friends here. On behalf of his clients - the thousands of big and small-business owners in Texas - Hammond is roaming the capitol, trying to impart a bit of reality about the Lone Star State's economy.

HAMMOND: The impact on this Texas state economy of immigrant labor is about $17 billion a year. That's an enormous segment of our economy, and we simply would not be able to function without these people.

GOODWYN: Until this year, Hammond and his Republican allies in the Texas Legislature have been able to kill most immigration bills in committee. Hammond would like to expand the immigration pipeline to allow more workers to legally enter the state. That proposal currently has zero chance.

HAMMOND: Today, 56 percent of Texans under the age of 25 are minorities. The growth in the population has been largely Hispanic over the last 10 years. I believe the Republican Party is throwing away their future.

AARON PENA: The tone of the debate is basically saying: We don't want you. This is a war over our culture. These people bring diseases into our country.

GOODWYN: House representative Aaron Pena is a Republican who represents Hidalgo, on the border. There are six Hispanic Republicans in the Texas House and Pena says they've been trying to convince some of their colleagues to tone down the anti-Hispanic rhetoric.

PENA: Many times, you won't see our handiwork out in public. It's done behind the scenes.

GOODWYN: Pena says there are plenty of Texas Republicans who quietly share his concerns about the tone of the debate and its long-term effect on Hispanic voters. But now, there are plenty who don't, including Tyler representative Leo Berman.

BERMAN: Most Hispanics right now do vote Democrat, there's no question about it. So, what vote are we going after? We're going after a vote that doesn't vote Republican anyway.

GOODWYN: Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.