"Although Swinford didn't elaborate on measures unlikely to make it out of his committee, he said he expects the House to consider two: a concurrent resolution telling the federal government to shape up on immigration enforcement and his House Bill 13, which in part would allow the governor to help law enforcement agencies pay for personnel, equipment and support for homeland security.
A 2001 state law allowing certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities could also be revisited."
State lawmaker: Leave most immigration issues to the feds
Most bills might not pass constitutional muster.
By Juan Castillo, W. Gardner Selby
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Although once it seemed almost certain that the Texas Legislature was headed for a bruising showdown over illegal immigration, a key lawmaker signaled Monday that the place for that battle is a national stage.
Texas is "not in the immigration business. We don't have any authority," said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.
Swinford is the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, which will decide the fate of most of the 30-plus immigration bills filed in the 80th Legislature. He said he was briefed Friday by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's staff on the "parameters of what we need to be worried about" regarding immigration-related legislation.
What he learned, Swinford said, is that federal law pre-empts state law.
"When you put that screen over that, there's a lot of (bills) that don't make it through," Swinford said.
Although Swinford didn't elaborate on measures unlikely to make it out of his committee, he said he expects the House to consider two: a concurrent resolution telling the federal government to shape up on immigration enforcement and his House Bill 13, which in part would allow the governor to help law enforcement agencies pay for personnel, equipment and support for homeland security.
A 2001 state law allowing certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities could also be revisited. Everything else is unresolved, Swinford said.
In February, Swinford asked Abbott's office to review immigration bills referred to his committee, saying he didn't want to pass anything that didn't clear a constitutional bar.
Reacting to Swinford's comments Monday, Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who wrote the tuition law, said Swinford recognized that state leaders need to focus on things they can change. "I think people also recognized that a lot of the emotion for this issue was predominantly a carryover from the election season," Noriega said. "It was just a campaign hot button."
With congressional inaction on how to confront the issue, state lawmakers have filed legislation making it harder for illegal immigrants to live in Texas.
One of the most prominent, House Bill 28, would deny state services to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Its author, Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, hopes it becomes a test for the U.S. Supreme Court to interpret the 14th Amendment, which provides birthright citizenship.
Another Berman bill would tax money transfers to Mexico and Latin America, and other measures, including Swinford's, would enable local law officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
The State Affairs and Border and International Affairs committees will meet Wednesday to hear invited testimony on immigration.
On Monday, a coalition of political, civil rights and business leaders called on lawmakers to consider immigrants' contributions to society and the economy when evaluating legislative proposals.
"We really need to understand what (the immigrant) population means to our economy and how our economy could collapse without this much-needed labor force," said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, a member of the State Affairs Committee.
Farrar appeared at a Capitol news conference by a group calling itself TRUST, Texas Residents United for a Stronger Texas. The coalition includes members of the Texas Association of Business, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Apartment Association and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The coalition issued 15 principles it said lawmakers should consider in evaluating immigration bills, including creating accountability measures for border security programs and rejecting efforts to require employers, landlords, businesses or private individuals to, in effect, be immigration agents.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said the Legislature "should take no action with immigration unless and until Congress acts on this very important issue."
Hammond also sought to underscore the importance of immigrants to the economy, noting a Texas comptroller's report last year that found undocumented immigrants added $17.7 billion to the gross state product in 2005.
Hammond said many businesses, particularly agriculture, depend on immigrant labor to function.
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