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Conservative Groups Push Immigration Reform with ‘Texas Compact’

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The Texas Compact can be found online at texascompact.org.

The topic of immigration is seldom discussed these days in the Texas Legislature, but Texans still want a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., where immigration reform has finally gained traction and bipartisan support. A group of conservative religious and business leaders, pushing a set of immigration goals they call the Texas Compact, wants to ensure Texas has a role in new immigration laws by lobbying Texas’ federal legislators to get behind reform.

“[This] … is our moment in history to write the chapter on how Texas, and our country eventually, handles with dignity, humanity and in our best interest our immigration issue,” said Marcia Nichols, co-chair of the Compact, during a press conference call Tuesday. “The reality living in Texas is we have always had an integral part of our community that have been immigrants. We have been behind the curve in adopting sensible, fair approaches to this reality.”

The Texas Compact is modeled after the Utah Compact on immigration, a plan released three years ago. The Texas Compact outlines five principles: creating solutions for immigration reform at the federal level; encouraging law enforcement to differentiate between criminals and undocumented immigrants; recognizing the vital impact immigrants have on the U.S. economy and enabling them to have a greater impact; putting an end to the practice of separating families through deportation; and facilitating undocumented immigrants’ participation in a “free society.”

Texas is the fourth state to adopt such a compact, drafted largely by conservative religious and business leaders. In the press conference call Tuesday, moderated by former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, business representatives from Houston and members of the evangelical and law enforcement communities talked about the state’s need for immigration reform. The Compact has signatories from all over the state, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Compact Co-chair Mike Nichols was also on the call and compared the immigration issue to the fight for civil rights. Nichols is the Chairman of Houston’s Financial Task Force and a former Senior Vice President at Sysco Corp. He said Texas congressmen seem to be afraid to support immigration reform, and the Compact is a means to encourage them to do so by showing them Texans of all stripes will back them up. The key, the authors agreed, is for legislators to act now.

President Obama has also lately criticized Congress’ lack of action on immigration reform. During his State of the Union address last Tuesday, he urged Congress to write immigration legislation. On Saturday night, the newspaper USA Today reported that a leaked White House draft on immigration would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status within eight years, among other provisions. Though Obama says he will await bipartisan legislation from Congress, he has said he’ll move forward if Congress does not act, and that this immigration proposal will be his back-up plan.

Marcia Nichols and other members supporting the Texas Compact say nothing will be gained by Texas’ leaders refusing to participate. “Never in the history of our country has history been written by people who lack courage or who use the veil of indecision and wait and see,” said Nichols. “There’s never been change from that attitude.”

Priscila Mosqueda is a contributing writer at the Observer, where she previously interned. She grew up in San Antonio and graduated with a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. Her work has appeared in InsideClimate News, The Center for Public Integrity, The Daily Beast, and various Central Texas outlets.