Friday, August 20, 2010

Early look at upcoming Texas immigration debate

Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010

Lawmakers talk about effects an Arizona-inspired law would have here.

A legislative committee hearing Wednesday offered a glimpse of the immigration debate that Texas lawmakers could have in the upcoming session with Republicans pushing to limit illegal immigration and Democrats questioning the wisdom of doing so, especially in a tight budget year.

Much of the House Committee on State Affairs' discussion was about Arizona's controversial law calling for law enforcement officers to ask people for documents showing citizenship and about E-Verify, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services computer system that is supposed to make sure job applicants are in the U.S. legally.

The committee hearing was intended to educate lawmakers on immigration issues that might come up in the legislative session that begins in January, when lawmakers are expected to face an $18 billion budget shortfall.

Though the period to pre-file bills has not started, the committee's chairman, Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, said, "It's naive to think that the state isn't going to do something" to try to limit illegal immigration in Texas.

A handful of Republican lawmakers have signaled that they would introduce bills that would mandate E-Verify and enact a law like Arizona's.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, highlighted potential expenses for Texas if an Arizona-like law were enacted here. He also pointed to testimony from immigration lawyer Michael Golden indicating that E-Verify, which is free to employers and available in all 50 states, appeared to be unreliable. For example, it might be hard to verify a person who changed her name after marriage.

During the hearing, Gallego told fellow committee members and the small crowd in the hearing room that when making policy, "you always have to be aware of unintended consequences."

Gallego said there could be significant effects if law enforcement and other public agencies were asked to reallocate already-sparse resources to check citizenship of people in Texas, many of whom would not be here illegally.

Later in the hearing, Rep. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, also said lawmakers should not pass laws that would inadvertently take resources and money away from law enforcement's ability to protect the border.

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