AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers are closely watching Arizona's get-tough immigration law, with some Republicans saying they will push for similar action here while Democrats say the legislation is wrongheaded and the GOP would suffer politically for the attempt.
“The first priority for any elected official is to make sure that the safety and security of Texans is well-established,” said Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball. “If our federal government did their job, then Arizona wouldn't have to take this action, and neither would Texas.”
Riddle introduced a similar measure last legislative session — it stalled in committee — and said she will do the same when the Legislature meets in regular session in January.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, called the Arizona law “extremely damaging and hateful” and said any attempt to replicate it in Texas would not pass, but would damage the GOP.
Any such measure that gains traction “just adds to the Democratic side,” said Van de Putte, a former president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.
She said she has scotched Arizona travel plans.
“I will not step into that state, and every single group that I'm a part of, if they plan a meeting there, I will not go, and I will ask all of my colleagues to please not go,” she said. “If my family would be treated differently just because of the color of their skin, then I don't want to be in that state.”
‘A different relationship'
The Arizona law, which has sparked protests and questions over its constitutionality, would require local and state lawmen to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to believe they may be in the country illegally. The measure would make it a crime under Arizona state law if immigrants lack registration documents. They could face arrest, a jail term of up to six months and a fine.
Jim Harrington, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, predicted “zero” chance of a similar effort here, saying Texas has “a different relationship with the Hispanic community.”
Such a push “would cause an enormous political transformation of the state a lot quicker than it's happening at this point,” Harrington said. “It would galvanize the Hispanic community astronomically.”
Asked about the Arizona law, GOP Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, emphasized through spokespeople that immigration is a federal responsibility.
“You can take the political temperature by just looking at Rick Perry being quiet,” Harrington said.
In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday that the Obama administration has concerns about Arizona's action and that a Justice Department review is under way to determine the law's constitutionality.
“We believe it will detract from and siphon resources that we need to focus on those in the country illegally who are committing the most serious crimes in addition to violating our nation's immigration laws,” said Napolitano, who was governor of Arizona until joining the Obama administration.
Seen as misguided
Even if the Arizona law is constitutional, she said it is misguided because it would hamper trust between law enforcement investigating crimes such as domestic violence, human trafficking, even routine traffic accidents. Napolitano said she hoped the federal government's review would be complete before the Arizona law takes effect in late July or early August.
The Texas Association of Business' Bill Hammond said that while it is likely similar legislation will be filed in the Lone Star State, “I think and hope there's little likelihood the Texas Legislature would pass anything so misguided as what they've done in Arizona. I think it is blatantly unconstitutional.”
‘Proud of Arizona'
Whether the Arizona move could increase immigration to Texas is an open question. Harrington said he does not think so, partly because people who go to Arizona typically come from a different part of Mexico than those who come to Texas.
But Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, former State Affairs Committee chairman who did not advance immigration measures in 2007 because he said he was advised they would violate constitutional standards, said the Arizona action could increase immigration to Texas. He said he expects a similar push here but also expects Arizona to face a court fight.
“I'm real proud of Arizona,” said Swinford. “A lot of this stuff we wanted to do, we just couldn't do because I didn't want Texas going bankrupt trying to defend it in the courts. ...”
Gary Martin contributed to this report from Washington.