The Texas legislature convened in Austin on Tuesday, and there was no mention from Gov. Rick Perry about illegal immigration legislation.
In Jan. 2011 Perry gave the traditional opening remarks to the 82nd Texas legislature and he made it clear – he wanted a crackdown on illegal immigration.
"We must abolish sanctuary cities in Texas," Perry said to applause from the newly sworn in lawmakers.
Perry said he was making an anti-sanctuary cities law an emergency item. He wanted a Texas version of Arizona’s SB-1070. Perry wanted police officers checking the immigration status of anyone they suspected wasn’t properly authorized to be in the country.
“We need to free up our peace officers to do their job keeping our families and neighborhoods safe. Immigration laws and their enforcement are the responsibility of the federal government we cannot compound their failure by preventing Texas peace officers from doing their jobs,” Perry said.
Despite Perry’s push and the Republican majorities in the Texas legislature, the bill didn’t pass. Fast forward two years later to the 83rd Texas legislature and Perry has another crack at passing a Texas SB-1070 type bill.
How times have changed
What was an emergency two years ago is off the radar today. It didn’t get a mention in the governor’s opening remarks.
“Turned out there was very little enthusiasm for that legislation. I think there was over one hundred so called anti-immigrant – sanctuary cities bills filed last time and not a single one passed last time,” said Charles Foster, a Houston immigration attorney who served as a consultant to both the Barack Obama and the George W. Bush Presidential Campaigns.
Foster said this time the Republican lawmakers have learned their lesson.
“Most of it was a complete waste of time to begin with because it was bound to be preempted by federal law and it turned out that was the case in U.S. vs Arizona the Supreme Court ruled,” he said.
And then there was that national election in November that sent shock waves through the Republican Party.
“Bush got 43% of the Hispanic vote – a much larger Hispanic vote today that was down to 27% for Governor Romney but in the key toss up states like Colorado he was only getting 10%. So the handwriting is on the wall, so unless the Republican Party can address these issues responsibly they are going to become a minority party in the state of Texas,” Foster said.
So what essentially happened was a figurative memo went out to Texas Republican lawmakers – don't introduce bills that will embarrass the party with Latino voters.
Actions speak louder than words
It’s going to take more than that to repair the damage done to the GOP brand in Texas according to Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer. He's the chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
“They believe in English only. They think Texas should not have pre-K education for its children – 65% of pre-K children are Hispanic. They want to make it a crime to be in this country illegally, and they want to repeal the Dream Act. I don’t think you can reach out to Hispanics if these are your values,” said Martinez Fischer
Martinez-Fischer said the Texas Republicans are learning how to talk-the-talk but they aren’t willing to walk-the-walk when it comes to serving Hispanic voters.
However, there is a record number of Hispanic Republican lawmakers in the 83rd Legislature in Texas – and they might be able to lead the rest of their party into making solid policy moves.