Sunday, November 14, 2010

Texas Legislature Immigration curbs appear a sure thing, observers say

SOME OF IMMIGRATION BILLS FILED
More than a dozen immigration-related bills have been filed for the legislative session starting Jan. 11. More are expected.

HB 17 - Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball: Creates a Class B misdemeanor offense of criminal trespass against an immigrant who enters or remains in the state of Texas illegally. A law enforcement officer may arrest a person if the officer believes the person is not in the county legally and the officer is acting on a reasonable suspicion that the person is committing or has committed another offense.

HB 21 - Rep. Riddle: Requires state agencies to report how much they spent directly or indirectly for services to persons who were not legally in the state of Texas.

HB 22 - Rep. Riddle: Requires public schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of each student when that child first enrolls in the school.

HB 177 - Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton: Requires applicants for a driver's license, commercial driver's license or a personal identification certificate to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or document authorizing that person to be in the United States.

HB 178 - Rep. Jackson: Requires state, county and city governments to use E-verify, an Internet-based system, to determine the eligibility of new employees. (Similar to SB 84/Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville.)

HB 183 - Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton: Requires law enforcement agencies to verify with 48 hours the immigration status of someone arrested.

HB 202 - Rep. Solomons: Requires state contractors to participate in E-verify. A state agency may not award a contract for goods or services to a contractor unless the contractor and subcontractor uses the program. (Similar to HB140/Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker)

SB 126 - Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston: Requires law enforcement officers to ask about the lawful presence of any person who is lawfully stopped, detained or arrested on other grounds if the officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is not here legally. The officer may arrest the person if he or she has probable cause to believe the person is not here legally. The officer must identify and report the person to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement after any arrest.

SB 124 - Sen. Patrick: Prohibits cities from adopting sanctuary policies and enabling illegal immigration. (Similar to HB 18/Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball and HB 113/Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring)

A crackdown on illegal immigration seems certain to emerge from next year's legislative session, both politicians and observers say, but what any law would entail will depend on how fatigued and acrimonious lawmakers are when the bill comes to the forefront.

"There's a high probability that something will pass," Austin political consultant Bill Miller said, "but what that something is and what it does is a whole different ball game."

Conservative grass-roots activists have clamored for reform, and Republicans dramatically widened their majority in the Texas House and maintained their dominance in the Senate in last week's elections.

Lawmakers have already filed a handful of bills targeting illegal immigration. They range from requiring government agencies to verify employees' work status to bills that are similar to a controversial provision of Arizona's immigration law — which a federal judge has temporarily blocked — allowing police to arrest someone they suspect is here illegally.

Almost all bills change significantly as they wend through the legislative process, but immigration will have more forces pushing and pulling it than others. It faces opposition from the business community and with legal challenges to Arizona's law still pending, it's unclear what states can do about illegal immigration.

It also will share the stage with other contentious issues — such as the budget deficit, redistricting and voter ID.

Many controversial bills have been killed by maneuvering on the House floor and a rule in the Senate that requires approval from two-thirds of senators to bring a bill up for debate. Republican senators, however, brushed that rule aside in 2009 in an effort to push a voter ID bill through the chamber.

Costs to businesses
The Texas GOP also expanded its House majority, limiting Democrats' options.

The business community will likely fight legislation, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein, especially if the economy begins to improve.

"To the guy who's running that small business, the roofer, the cementer, that's a cheap labor force that he can hire up that's non-union and he can use to make a recovery," Stein said.

Texas businesses — particularly in the hospitality, agriculture and construction industries — rely on immigrant labor, said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. Legislation seen as discriminatory could hurt Texas' tourism and convention business, he said.

The illegal immigration issue should be handled at the national level, he said.

Looming over any immigration legislation is the pending legal challenge of Arizona's law. A federal judge temporarily has blocked provisions of that law on the grounds that immigration enforcement is the federal government's jurisdiction. Even if the law survives that challenge, it is certain to face later challenges on the grounds that it is discriminatory, said Scot Powe, a law professor at at UT-Austin.

"You need an example of an American citizen or somebody with a green card being improperly hassled under the law to bring that challenge, and I think that challenge is an ironclad winner," Powe said.

Law enforcement burden
Gov. Rick Perry said he will not comment on the merits of legislation that has not reached his desk. Speaking in San Antonio Tuesday, Perry said he has concerns about Arizona's law because it puts new burdens on law enforcement, but said he thinks the state was well within its rights when it passed the bill.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said a bill he filed avoids putting an unnecessary burden on police.

Patrick's bill would require police to ask anyone stopped for another offense whether they are in Texas legally if they have a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is here illegally. Patrick said law enforcement agencies wanted that question to be required, instead of being optional, to avoid complaints of profiling.

His bill would give law enforcement the discretion to arrest a person - with reasonable suspicion, Patrick said.

"The focus of my bill is to identify the bad guys and to get the bad guys off the street and turned over to (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)," Patrick said.

A large flow of conservative legislation, including immigration bills, will come from House Republicans and Senate Democrats should not have "a de facto veto over conservative legislation," Patrick said. The 31-seat Senate has 19 Republicans, just shy of the two-thirds required to bring a bill up for debate.

"What's the point of being in the majority as Republicans if we are going to allow a handful of Democrats to stop the will of the majority of the people?" Patrick asked.

Immigration will be "the emotional, divisive issue of the session," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Van de Putte said she does not sense any strong movement to suspend the two-thirds rule, which she noted protected Republicans in the past during big Democratic majorities.

Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, is not so sure. While he thinks a law like Arizona's would be unconstitutional and divisive, Castro said Democrats will have a hard time blocking it.

"I think Republicans are dead set on passing Arizona-style legislation," Castro said, "and I think they have the numbers to pass it."

gscharrer@express-news.net

jbuch@express-news.net

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