Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Don't Mess with Texas

Immigration Tops Texas Lawmakers' Agendas

Texas lawmakers are ready to pounce on the illegal immigrant issue when they start their next session in January.

With the Democrats in charge in Washington, conservatives in Texas plan to put their imprint on a variety of issues ranging from abortion to school vouchers.

Their biggest push by far, however, will be passage of a host of bills dealing with illegal immigrants, including one that just might challenge the 14th Amendment, which defines citizenship and requires states to provide civil rights to anyone born on U.S. soil.

In Austin, Republicans began are heading to the state Capitol with stacks of bills aimed at cutting off benefits to illegal aliens, taxing their remittances south of the border, and requiring proof of citizenship at the voting booth. The harshest bill would deny welfare and other benefits even to the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens — rights supposedly given them under the 14th Amendment.

Latino groups, who were only recently being wooed by Republican candidates, were left aghast at the onslaught, calling it "a hate campaign" against immigrants and "anti-human being".

John Colyandro, director of the Texas Conservative Coalition, expects a broad array of legislation targeting benefits to illegals, as well as voter verification of citizenship, employer sanctions for hiring illegal aliens, and additional funding for border security. He says the two extremes of the current immigration debate — deporting all illegals or granting amnesty to all — are "unworkable and frankly intolerable."

Under the bill proposed by Republican state Rep. Leo Berman, of Tyler, children born in Texas to illegal aliens would be denied state unemployment or public assistance benefits like food stamps as well as professional licenses.

Berman argues that in Texas alone there are an estimated two million illegal aliens whose U.S.-born children get these benefits, which go largely un-reimbursed by the federal government.

Critics argue that the proposed measures are rooted in racism and fear and that those in the United States illegally contribute more to the economy than they take. They say Texas should take a less draconian approach to fighting illegal immigration.

"It is unChristian, it is unAmerican and any religious order would be against legislation that is so hateful," said state Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, a member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Both sides are readying for a fierce battle.

In 2006, more than 550 immigration-related bills were proposed in legislatures nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Thirty-three states adopted nearly 80 bills, covering topics ranging from employment to public benefits and access to driver's licenses. Several states adopted measures to increase penalties for human smuggling and trafficking.

Here is a look at some of the 2007 Texas proposals -

House Bill 28 would bar the babies of illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits such as food stamps, health care or public housing.

House Bill 29 would impose an 8-percent fee on money transfers between Texas and Mexico, Central and South America.

House Bill 104 and House Bill 141 would take away the right for illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at public universities.