A Texas-sized silence as immigration talks ramp up

By Paul J. Weber

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

So red-hot was immigration for Texas Republicans in the last legislative session that state Rep. Debbie Riddle camped outside the clerk's office to make sure her bills targeting illegal immigrants were filed first. About 50 bills related to immigration were filed in all. This time, Riddle, who once famously warned of immigrant mothers in the U.S. giving birth to "terror babies" who would grow up to attack the country as unsuspecting citizens, has not submitted any immigration proposals.

Perry talked tough about illegal immigration in his race for president, making his demand for more federal "boots on the ground" on the border all but a campaign slogan. But other Republican candidates talked even tougher. Perry wound up being criticized for his support of a 2001 state law that allowed tuition breaks for the children of illegals.

State demographers have predicted that Hispanics will make up a plurality of Texans by 2020, and then become the majority between 10 and 20 years later. In the last governor's race, the Republican nominee, Perry, won less than 40 of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls.

Last summer, the Texas GOP softened on immigration at the party's annual convention, acknowledging that mass deportation isn't possible and calling for common ground. Six months later, some far-right Republicans are seething that immigration has dropped off the party's radar.

"Establishment Republicans are trying to brand a different message," said Maria Martinez, executive director of the Immigration and Reform Coalition of Texas that backed "sanctuary city" proposals in 2011.

Texas could still wind up with a say on the new immigration plan. The Senate immigration plan would create a commission of lawmakers and border-state community leaders to assess when adequate border security measures have been completed.

Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who previously served in the Texas House, doubts his home state would let that happen.

"I don't think that Rick Perry and (Arizona Gov.) Jan Brewer will ever say the border is secure," Castro said. With conservatives angry about the issue, "they know they risk a primary challenge if they come out and say the border is secure."

Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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