Aliens & Budget Craters

Take me to your legislator

The holiday break wasn’t nearly long enough and now the legislative session is already upon us and that nagging multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, which will be unveiled by the Comptroller next Monday ta-da!. But don’t pay any attention to that. There’s a war going on folks. It’s already been declared on immigrants both documented and  undocumented or as the hardliners like to call ‘em (cue, the sinister music ) “Illegal Aliens.”

Perhaps, you’ve seen Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle on CNN blathering on about “terror babies” or read about Republican Rep. Leo Berman’s Darth Vader-like views on immigration in the press.  Together they’ve had more than their allotted share of 15 minutes of fame. They’re the most vocal, but not the only legislators that have something filed, of course. There’s more than 30 immigration bills already in the hopper. Why do I feel like we’ll be spending most of this session listening to fiery, xenophobic rants about immigrants on the House floor, when we should be hearing about what our elected officials are going to do about this huge crater in our budget – a good portion of it created through poor fiscal mismanagement on the part of our state leaders ( hello, remember the 2006 tax-swap to solve the school funding crisis, or rather tax-flop, that’s caused an $4.6 million annual shortfall ever since?) Again, nothing to look at over here, folks. Instead, check out the three-ring circus over immigration. A circus I might add, that will cost us dearly in both human decency and endless protracted court cases on the taxpayer’s dime. Just look at Arizona, already nearly bankrupt, and spending the last dregs of its budget on teams of lawyers to make sure that not one Mexican gets a cent off the hard working taxpayers of Arizona. (Unless, of course, there’s a pool that needs cleaning or a yard that needs trimming).

Ms. Riddle’s not going to let any old threat of lawsuits, or even constitutionality deter her from what needs to be done. She wants folks without proof of citizenship to be jailed for criminal trespass before they are deported. (Okay, so the government has to spend more money and space in jails and then deport the offending immigrants?)  And she wants schools to check citizenship status. Never mind that the U.S Supreme Court already ruled that school officials can’t ask about a student’s citizenship status. Riddle was so excited to get to work she pitched her pup tent over at the Lege in November so she could be first in line to pre-file her four immigration bills. I’d be willing to bet lawyers are even more ecstatic, because they’ve got job security now for the rest of their days if any of this stuff passes.

Which brings me to Rep. Berman, who makes Riddle look like a little ol’ softie on immigration. Back in November, Berman filed a bill that creates two classes of citizens. The bill is part of a nationwide effort to circumvent the 14th amendment of the Constitution that states anyone born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen. You may have read about it, recently in the New York Times. It’s all the rage. The bill is such a nutty mess it boggles the mind. It requires a “temporary alien birth certificate” to be issued to parents that can’t prove U.S. citizenship. It also denies citizenship to children of parents who are here legally with temporary status. So now it’s up to nurse and doctors to become experts on immigration. What if you have temporary protected status and are in the process of getting permanent status, or you are a recognized legal refugee? There are oodles of different kinds of legal visas issued to thousands of people every year.  Presumably then, we have ICE agents in labor and delivery at the hospital determining citizenship status? I pity any federal agent tasked with that job. I was in labor for 32 hours, and I nearly killed my husband because he wanted to leave the maternity ward to buy a pizza. Well, thank heavens the federal immigration authorities never make mistakes. That is unless you count jailing,  deporting U.S. citizens and preventing U.S. citizens from having a passport because they were born to midwives as mistakes.

Anyway,  just to show no hard feelings, even though you’re an alien trespasser, you’re finally given a “permanent certificate of alien birth” and a t-shirt that reads “I was born in the United States and all I got was this crappy alien birth certificate.” Throughout this issuing of birth certificates song and dance, there is room for litigation, which I’m sure won’t be needed because the federal government never makes mistakes. The Attorney General must defend the state in each one of these legal actions. Well, again it’s pay dirt for the legal profession, which makes you wonder who the architect is of this harebrained masterpiece. It’s lawyer Kris Kobach, who advised Arizona on its fiasco. He’s made several millions drafting legislation and advising on illegal immigration measures across the country. Recently, he was elected secretary of state of Kansas. He assures the New York Times that the  legislation  has been “carefully written to avoid usurping federal authority, but to “revive the concept of state citizenship.” Oh, and to create more work for the already overburdened court system.

Thankfully, there is a bipartisan answer to this nonsense. Yesterday a coalition of more level-headed folks including sheriffs, business leaders and educators, Democrats and Republicans alike, met at the Capitol to publicize their views in a press conference that Arizona-type legislation in Texas is not only bad for the economy, but also for public safety, civil rights and simple human decency. We’re going to see a whole lot more of these types of press conferences, rallies and events throughout the session to counter the negative bluster about “anchor babies” and “illegal invaders”. Texas has always embraced immigrants, and valued their contribution, which is one of the finest things about the Lone Star State.

But let’s hope at some point amidst all these rallies, legislators finally get down to tackling Texas’ multi-billion dollar budget crater, which is the real enemy. As Deedee Garcia Blase, a spokeswoman for Somos Republicans, told the NYT rather eloquently “Rather than attacking babies born in the United States and the Constitution, we demand they target our suffering economy.”

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

Published at 8:11 pm CST