Texas has an estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants living between the Red and Rio Grande Rivers. Houston alone is home to about 600,000 of those. Texas has a 1,200 mile border with Mexico (the longest of any state). Texas has a booming Latino population that sees almost every other issue through the lens of immigration.
What Texas does not have, apparently, is leaders in Washington willing to knock down doors to be included in how the nation will fix its dysfunctional immigration system.
As President Barack Obama begins his push for reform, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled their plan this week. They are Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona along with Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
Conspicuously absent are Sen. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans from Texas.
What’s going on? It’s not as if Texans don’t understand the need for reform. It’s not even as if Texas Republicans don’t understand the need for reform.
In 2011, the Texas Republican leadership in Austin killed about 100 Arizona-style immigration bills that had been filed. Delegates to the Texas Republican Party Convention voted 2 to 1 to support a guest worker program for people in the country illegally.
Delegates to the national Republican Party’s convention were so inspired by what was happening in Texas that they also voted to include a guest worker provision in their platform. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who is a Republican just like every other statewide officeholder, has spoken repeatedly of the need for a guest worker program.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, pointed to the state and national platforms as signs of real progress. “There were a number of us that were understanding the awkward position that many people in this party were taking,” Straus said in Austin this week. “As a state policymaker, I welcome bipartisan solutions. And as a state policymaker in the most important border state, I’m very anxious for them to be successful.”
Given all that, why aren’t Cruz and Cornyn at the forefront of the immigration discussions in Washington?
I’ll answer that for you: People with no common sense decided on your behalf that Texas leaders should be afraid.
During last year’s race to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Cruz campaigned using the tired “anti-amnesty” rhetoric that resonates with the fewer than 5 percent of registered Texas voters who bothered to show up for the primary runoff. Opponent David Dewhurst was so afraid of that small number of fired-up voters that he had his staff delete a 2007 speech from his website in which he talked about the need for a guest worker program.
Cornyn is likewise afraid of that small percentage of the electorate who will be just as fired up and ready to vote against him in a primary if he supports reforms that don’t include nonsense ideas like “self-deportation.”
It is really unfortunate that a leader like Cornyn isn’t helping craft this policy. He has a breadth of knowledge on immigration, is attuned to the needs of the Texas business community and as a San Antonio native, he understands the cultural implications of inaction.
Immigration is an issue that presents unique challenges to Texas. For good or bad, our social and economic destiny is inextricably linked to how the nation will address it. Our leaders should show courage and demand a seat at the table.
This column originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.