Texas Republicans Cross a Border

In a huge departure from its past stances on immigration, the Republican Party of Texas came out in favor of a heavily regulated guest worker program in its 2012 platform. 
Mon June 11, 2012 7:33 pm
AP Photo | Luis M. Alvarez

The Republican Party of Texas is still opposed to homosexuality, the federal income tax, and gambling, and in favor of the sanctity of life, the electoral college, and the Boy Scouts. 

But if some would not yet call it a "big tent," it has opened a big door. At this past weekend's state convention in Fort Worth, the party radically revised its immigration platform, coming out in support of a national guest worker program.

Morgan Smith and Julián Aguilar of the Texas Tribune  reported that the new plank had been the subject of negotiations for months. "Supporters, including Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson — who spoke to delegates in its favor — sold it as a reform that addressed labor shortages and provided a practical solution to immigration issues," they wrote. 

"Our party must embrace the concept of people coming from around the world for economic opportunity," RPT chair Steve Munisteri recently  told TEXAS MONTHLY 's Paul Burka , in a story about how Republicans will adapt to the state's changing demographics.

How big is the change? The section on "Illegal Immigration" in the 2010 Republican platform  began with the declaration, "Secure the Borders Now," and also stated that "illegal aliens have by definition violated U.S. law," and called for the elimination of day labor work centers.

But in the 2012 edition , the word "illegal" does not appear anywhere in the "IMMIGRATION" section, which is subtitled "The Texas Solution." Instead, it uses the term "undocumented individuals" and states that:

Mass deportation of these individuals would neither be equitable nor practical; while blanket amnesty, as occurred with the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, would only encourage future violations of the law.  We seek common ground to develop and advance a conservative, market- and law-based approach to our nation’s immigration issues...

The plan to "Create an Effective and Efficient Temporary Worker Program ... to bring skilled and unskilled workers into the United States for temporary periods of time when no U.S. workers are currently available," still calls for criminal background checks, though, more liberally, it suggest that "applicants with prior immigration violations would only qualify for the program if they paid the appropriate fines."

As Joe Holley and Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News  noted, the "Texas Solution" remains hard-line in other areas, including, "such items as a call to limit citizenship-by-birth to those born to U.S citizens, denying welfare benefits to those who cannot prove citizenship, and encouraging legislation to prohibit public-school enrollment by 'non-citizens unlawfully present in our nation.'"

Still, it's a big leap not only from 2010, but 2006, when, as Burka noted, the platform included the wording “No amnesty! No how. No way.”

"Grandma can stay," Bud Kennedy memorably began  his column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram , paraphrasing a Republican delegate, Norman Damas of Houston, who said:

"I'd start telling Hispanic voters about Republicans, and they'd say, 'I'm pro-life, too, but you want to deport my grandma...

"They can't say that anymore."

Kennedy noted it was a disparate coalition, including not just Patterson and Hispanic Republicans like former Edinburg representative Aaron Peña, but border patrol activists the Minutemen and young Ron Paul supporters. 

"This is an important step for the party as we continue to reach out to conservative Hispanics across Texas,"  wrote Bob Price of Texas GOP Vote. "Prior versions of the platform were used by Democrats to create a false impression that Republicans were both anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. Nothing could be further from the truth."

The platform did have its detractors, however.

"What you’re doing is granting amnesty, and the Republican Party has always been against granting amnesty of all kinds," Collin County Republican Joleen Reynolds told Shelly Kofler of KERA in Dallas. "It was by a renegade group that tried to come in and take over our party."

And the Texas Democratic Party issued a statement that included the zinger, "Republicans believe that immigrants can work in our fields but not live in our neighborhoods."

The question now is, does the platform really count for anything? As the Tribune's Smith and Aguilar noted, a state guest worker bill sponsored by Peña didn't pass last session. And platforms in general tend to be more style the substance. 

"The candidates usually ignore the final product their respective parties produce," Holley and Fikac observed before the weekend. "Since the delegates are party true believers, expect the Democratic platform to come up with a far-left liberal platform, the Republicans an ultraconservative one."

So in that sense at least, the Republicans confounded expectations, if only for five paragraphs of a 23-page document. 

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