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What would comprehensive immigration reform look like if the Feds got off their duffs?

Eliseo Medina, the SEIU's secretary-treasurer and a national figure in the moderate reform movement, is almost exuberant. "The good thing from my point of view," the union leader says, "is that the Steve Kings and the Lamar Smiths, the Tom Tancredos, the Governor Brewers are the very best organizers I could ever hope for.

"They have done what César Chávez and a generation of Latinos could not do. They have, in fact, united the Latino community in this country like nobody ever could."

Even some worried conservative Republicans share this view. Linda Chavez, author, Reagan White House staffer and FOX TV analyst, says the racist TV ads are pushing away a constituency that would otherwise be valuable to Republicans in 2012—one that is growing fast in both raw numbers and political engagement. It's a trend that could damage her party in 2012. Chavez says Republicans "are shooting themselves in the foot, because a demographic shift is taking place."

Curt Merlo
Curt Merlo


The hope, then, is that Republicans will take a leaf from Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and move their troublesome relatives to the attic. But things could go the other way.

A week after exit polls paid for by more moderate immigration-reform-advocacy groups showed strong Latino support for Democrats in the midterm election, other respected national polls showed that Latinos had trended more Republican this year than in the 2008 congressional elections, by as much as 5 percent. So how is that trend supposed to frighten rambunctious Republicans?

In fact, there is enough uncertainty about Latino voters and 2012 to prompt this line of questioning: What if the 2012 election does not fall to the side of moderate reformers? What if it goes the way of Lamar Smith and Steve King? What will the U.S. House look like then?

That's easy. Like Texas.

Whatever the midterm elections did to Washington, multiply that by 10 and you'll have a fair guess what Texas will look like when its new legislative members are seated next year in Austin. In the last session, Republicans had a four-vote lead in the 150-member Texas House. Next year, their lead will be more than 50 votes, a "super majority" under House rules, meaning Republicans in the Texas House will barely have to say hello to the remaining Democrats, let alone consult them.

On immigration issues, some of the Republicans in the Texas House will make Smith and King look like bow-tie liberals. For example, state Representative Leo Berman, a six-term Republican from Tyler, will be Debbie Riddle's chief rival for immigrant-crackdown leader. In fact, he was almost certainly the one she hoped to beat by camping out on the House floor.

Berman and Riddle will competitively push Arizona-like laws to require immigration enforcement by local police; deny citizenship to children of undocumented aliens; bar undocumented aliens access to civil courts; cut off all state funding to cities that fail to expel undocumented aliens; forbid state agencies to provide services to children of undocumented aliens; levy an 8 percent tax on all money sent to Mexico, Central America or South America; and make English the official language of Texas.

Berman's signature work in the area of citizenship will be his bill requiring candidates for president or vice president of the United States to present their own birth certificates to the Texas Secretary of State before their names can be placed on the ballot in Texas, thus assuring that a foreign-born person will not be able to sneak into either of the two high offices.

King, in the U.S. House, already has signaled that he will introduce immigration bills in Washington parallel to several that Berman and Riddle will bring with them to Austin next January.

If you only knew Berman from his birther bill, you might be surprised by him in person. He does not come across as a Gomer-talking demagogue—at least not at first. A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, son of Latvian immigrants who entered the country through Ellis Island, Berman is genial and speaks with faint echoes of a Northeastern accent. But when he opens his mouth, he does pour out the heart and soul of the region that elects him to the state Legislature every two years.

Berman depicts a Texas awash in illegal aliens, the entire state on the verge of sinking beneath their weight. "They're using every emergency room in the state," he says earnestly. "If a Texan actually gets sick or gets injured and needs emergency-room care, he's usually sitting in there with a roomful of illegal aliens, waiting and waiting for hours.

"But the hospitals don't charge illegal aliens anything. They get free health care. U.S. citizens can't enjoy that benefit."

He describes the burgeoning immigrant population in Texas as if it were anthrax. "You've got one illegal alien that comes in. They've got enough money to buy a rent house. And you get a half-dozen families living in a house. And these people are sending their kids to our schools," he says. "They're dumbing down our schools."

He sees the problem in his state as emblematic of a national crisis. Clearly, Texas is the place to look for leadership, he believes, unlike other more liberal climes that have already humiliated themselves.

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