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Texas Republicans Toughen Stance On Undocumented Immigrants

Shelley Kofler
Republican Jack Finger from San Antonio was among convention delegates who opposed a guest-worker program.

Texas Republicans have taken a tougher stand against undocumented immigrants already living in the state by dropping support for a guest-worker program from their party platform.  

For weeks, Republicans braced for a battle over how to address undocumented immigrants already living here.  

Two years ago, the party softened its position by adopting the Texas Solution, which called for allowing some undocumented people to continue working in Texas if they passed criminal background checks, paid fines and fees and agreed not to accept public financial assistance.

But delegates like David Carter of Temple said the Texas Solution only encouraged illegal immigration.

"They call it a guest-worker program but it’s not guest workers," he said. "It’s current illegal aliens, people who ought to be deported who would be changed to legal status."

Norm Adams, an insurance agent from Houston, helped write the guest-worker program and warned that getting rid of it would alienate Hispanic voters the party is trying to attract.

"If we come out with a headline 'Republicans Reject Guest Worker Program, Support Deportation' that will be the worst thing to happen to the Texas Republican Party," he said.  "It will be what’s needed to turn Texas blue."

Adams and other Republicans backing a guest worker program thought delegates would opt to keep it.

But when debate began on the convention floor, opponents took control.

“This is wrong. People should follow the law, not get a preference. There is a process,” delegate Frank Saenz said.

After several hours of considering options, delegates divided into senate districts to vote on a three-page document some said they didn’t have the opportunity to read. It says that in an economy with unemployment, “America can ill afford a guest-worker program designed to depress wages.”  

In Dallas County’s Senate District 16, an overwhelming number -- 248 to 76 -- agreed with Barbara Stauffer of Garland. 

"What we want is no guest worker program," Stauffer said. "We have a lot of Americans who are unemployed and need work. And I’m concerned we are lacking focus on the rule of law."

And when the votes were tallied, 56 percent of 8,500 Republicans at the convention had voted to get rid of the guest-worker program. The platform also reinstated positions held in 2010 which call for banning sanctuary cities and eliminating in-state tuition for undocumented students who went to high school in Texas.  

Jo Ann Fleming, who heads an influential tea party group, was pleased.

"I like it a lot," she said. "Very much. It emphasizes border security. It does not give a step toward legalization for those who are here illegally."

Norm Adams said he would have preferred no immigration plank rather than one that doesn’t have a solution for addressing the current undocumented population.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’ve moved our party back 10 years,” he said.

Democrats were quick to condemn the Republicans' immigration plan. Within hours of the vote, gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was telling a Hispanic group in Houston her opponent's party disrespects them, and backs an immigration policy that would tear apart families and punish innocent children.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.