Texas lawmakers highlight immigration bills amid border wall impasse
AUSTIN — As the national debate over funding for a border wall intensifies, Texas lawmakers are also taking a run at several immigration issues.
Bills filed by Democratic and Republican state lawmakers address the separation of Central American migrant families seeking asylum, in-state tuition at Texas universities for young immigrants who have lived in the state for more than three years, and weakening of the so-called sanctuary cities law that passed in 2017.
Last week, immigration advocates highlighted the legislation and railed against President Donald Trump’s policies as well as House Bill 413 by Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, which would repeal an 18-year-old law that grants in-state college tuition for longterm residents of the state who are not U.S. citizens.
“The question today for our Legislature is in 2019 will they be upholding these values or will they continue to walk the path of divisiveness and believing the fake immigration crisis that Trump has presented before us?” said Adriana Carena, coordinator for Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance.
Top state lawmakers have framed the 140-day legislative session that began Jan. 8 as a return to “bread-and-butter” legislation like more funding for schools and reforms to tamp down escalating property taxes, rather than more controversial issues like last session’s Senate Bill 4, which requires local police and sheriffs to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
At the same time, leaders in both the Texas House and Texas Senate have indicated they will continue to spend roughly $800 million in the next two-year budget for border security measures including patrols by state troopers.
Biedermann’s HB 413 is the latest in a series of attempts to repeal the “Texas DREAM Act,” which was passed in 2001. While previous efforts to repeal the law fell flat, Biedermann says he sees signs of support after Gov. Greg Abbott said the law was “flawed” last year during a debate.
Citing a tight budget, Biedermann told Austin TV news outlet KXAN in November the current law creates an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.
“Why should we give them a deduction or a subsidy at taxpayer expense when other Texans could use the funds also to be educated?” Biedermann said.
On the other side of the immigration debate, Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, has introduced three separate bills that look to water down Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities, saying living in the border city has given him a more accurate understanding of the situation on the border than those sounding immigration alarms.
“Immigrants are tremendous contributors to our economy and our growth in this nation,” Rodriguez said in a news conference at the Texas Capitol. “The policies of the present administration and some of the advocates in the majority party here in this dome don’t recognize that.”
All three of the bills target a key provision of the law by preventing specific local entities from working with federal immigration officers when they encounter people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Reps. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, and Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, as well as Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, and Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, have also introduced bills that would repeal sections of the sanctuary cities law — for example, one would prevent police departments from reporting immigrants to federal authorities if police encounter them in places like hospitals, churches, universities and domestic violence shelters.
Foes of the sanctuary city law have long warned that it would hinder police investigations by making immigrants less likely to come forward as witnesses or victims of crime.
Two other bills from Gonzalez and Blanco would address the family separation issue by requiring increased reporting to state agencies on the number of children and adults in custody.
The Democrats, significantly outnumbered in both the Texas House and the Senate, acknowledge that their proposals are unlikely to pass. But the national battle over border security will keep the subject in the periphery for the foreseeable future, and they say their point of view is important to balance the hardline immigration talk coming from the White House.
“No longer are we going to let politicians like Donald Trump come to McAllen and say it isn’t safe,” Blanco said.