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Texas Democrats Say Immigration Is A Key Issue, But Are Short On A Plan

Delegates cheer during the Texas Democratic Convention in Fort Worth on Friday.
Julia Reihs
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Delegates cheer during the Texas Democratic Convention in Fort Worth on Friday.

Immigration took center stage at the Texas Democratic Party convention in Fort Worth last weekend. Delegates from across the state are concerned about the Trump administration policy that was separating families at the border until it was reversed last week.

But the party didn’t exactly present a concrete platform to reform immigration or oppose the Trump administration’s hardline policies ahead of the November elections. KUT's Ashley Lopez reports

Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, warned party members during his speech Friday night that even though the family separation policy has been halted, the issue is not over.

Hinojosa says detaining families at the border indefinitely – even if they are together – is still a problem.

“Thousands of children have been split from their families,” he said. “Now a family separation crisis will be a family detention crisis. History will judge them.”

But he told attendants history is watching them, too, and it’s up to the party to do something.

“Our children and our grandchildren will judge all of us,” he says. “What did Texas do when children were being ripped away from their families at our border? What did Texas Democrats do to fight back?”

But party members don’t have a unified answer on what they should do to fight back – or what their alternative plan for immigration should look like. The  party’s platform has a fairly long list of priorities on immigration – like passage of the DREAM Act, shutting down detention centers and denouncing xenophobia.

“We are a country of immigrants,” said Jesus Trinidad, a delegate from Seguin. “So, I believe that we should welcome immigrants as opposed to putting them in jail.”

Trinidad says he’s been watching what was happening at the border in recent weeks. He says he has a lot of sympathy for immigrants fleeing violence in their countries, but he didn’t have any concrete policies in mind.

“That’s a tough question,” says Sana Shahid, a delegate from Houston.

Shahid says tackling immigration policy is complicated. For example, on the issue of prosecuting people who enter the U.S. without documentation, she has two views on this.

“They should be given due process,” she says. “Because, yes, they are coming to our borders and they are seeking asylum. But even if they cross in, that’s a civil offense. We shouldn’t be prosecuting them criminally. The punishment doesn’t match the crime.”

Many Democrats say they are concerned that immigrants are being criminally prosecuted, while also frustrated with how badly staffed those courts are.

Eve Fox, a delegate from the Fort Worth area, said she thinks diplomacy is the answer.

“Our governments need to be spending resources to work with these other countries’ governments,” Fox says. “We need to have a stronger relationship with Mexico, not try to push them away and create animosities.”

Fox also says the government should focus on prosecuting people who employ undocumented workers, instead of only prosecuting workers.

And even though there’s not a singular vision for an immigration plan, Democratic leaders say they should be leading on this issue.

“As the Democratic party, we are called upon to reaffirm our best American values,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso. “It is time to recommit ourselves to this ideal that all immigrants are welcome and should not be treated like criminals regardless of how they got here.”

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.