While observers agree that the projected $20-billion budget shortfall (give or take $10 billion, or so) is the biggest challenge Texas legislators face in the coming year, a slew of other complicated issues suggest the upcoming 82nd legislative session will be one of the most arduous in recent memory. In the absence of federal immigration reform, lawmakers like state Representative and horse breeder Debbie Riddle have filed a range of anti-illegal immigration bills that could have racially biased discrimination returning to the Lone Star State for years to come. Are we trying to out-Arizona Arizona? Felipe Vargas, one of the four original SA DREAM Act hunger strikers, says that we’re on our way. “A lot of these policies coming to Texas are like SB 1070 on steroids,” said Vargas, an educator who has been working to get the DREAM Act passed for a decade.
We spoke with Vargas on the day he broke his 43-day fast — he planned to eat some oranges — to ask how he plans to take the energy displayed by DREAM Act supporters and channel it into fighting anti-illegal immigration legislation without losing momentum. He said the key is reaching 2nd- and 3rd-generation Mexican-Americans who aren’t thoroughly informed about the issues because they haven’t yet been directly affected. Vargas called this insular mentality a type of “selective morality” at work.
Vargas and his contingent have researched and analyzed most of the immigration-related bills that have been filed. Vargas is especially concerned with anti-illegal immigration bills related to education in public schools. “HB 22 is going to challenge the constitutionality of allowing public schools to educate undocumented illegal children,” he said. “It’s a very significant question that the Supreme Court isn’t clear on. So we may very well see this going up to the Court, and them deciding that undocumented students can’t go to school publicly for free.”
Vargas said the oppressive policies currently surfacing aren’t very different from some that have come up in past sessions. The difference, he said, is that lawmakers who skillfully maneuvered to avoid them in the past have either been replaced or have changed their stance.
“We have a history in our immigration policy of restricting immigration at first,” said Vargas. “After that, we start to completely deport folks. So right now we’re in an enforcement environment, but we’re moving toward the complete eradication of undocumented people, and others who look like them, from our society.”
Former SA city councilwoman and DREAM Act supporter Maria Berriozábal warns that once racial profiling is deemed OK, there’s no turning back. “We have to look at what’s already happened in the history of the world,” she said. “When you start demonizing people, and start speaking of them as less than human, you give yourself permission to violate them in all kinds of ways.” •
Here are some bills to watch in the upcoming session:
House Bill 17 (Riddle): Arizona Style/Police Checks — Allows police to check the immigration status of residents based on “reasonable suspicion” and arrest those who are illegal for violating criminal trespassing laws.
Senate Bill 126 (Patrick): Arizona Style/Police Checks — Companion bill to HB 17 that gives arresting officers immunity from any resulting discrimination-based lawsuits.
HB 22 (Riddle): Arizona Style — Requires public schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of each student when that child enrolls in the school.
HB 177 (Jackson): Drivers Licenses — Requires proof of citizenship in order to get any occupational license, driver’s license, or official Texas ID.
HB 16 (Riddle): Voter ID — Would require voters to present photo identification or two forms of non-photo identification before they are allowed to cast ballots.
HB 197 (Solomons): Business Sanctions — Requires proof of citizenship to work in Texas and makes it a Class A misdemeanor to hire illegal immigrants.
SB 84 (Nelson): E-Verify — Requires Texas businesses to verify immigration status of potential hires.
House Joint Resolution 38 (Berman): English Only — A constitutional amendment to establish English as the official language of Texas and require that official acts of government be performed in English.
HB 81 (Flynn): English Only — Prohibits state agencies from using any public money to print non-English documents or signs.