A 50-year-old bank vice president might strike you as an unlikely coalition-builder in the heated debate over immigration reform. If so, you haven’t met Eddie Aldrete, a senior vice president at IBC Bank in San Antonio, or heard his wonky, impassioned take on why America must overhaul its immigration system.
In 2007, Aldrete won kudos for forging an unlikely alliance between Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego, the chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and Bill Hammond, a conservative Republican and chair of the Texas Association of Business, to defeat a slew of anti-immigration bills. The coalition Aldrete put together, which also included the ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and League of United Latin American Citizens, staved off legislation such as a bill that would have prohibited young citizens from receiving health care or public education if their parents were undocumented.
“Everyone was focused on the same goal, but at the same time there were personality issues after years of butting heads,” Aldrete says. “But everyone was very professional and stood united on the cause for comprehensive immigration reform. We were successful in 2007, again in 2009, and we plan to be back next session.”
Aldrete comes from a family of Democrats. His father was assistant secretary of commerce for President Jimmy Carter, and his brother, James, is a well-known Democratic political consultant in Texas. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez is a shareholder at IBC. Still, Aldrete doesn’t hesitate to reach out to Republicans on immigration reform.
Chad Foster, former mayor of Eagle Pass and a Republican, says Aldrete’s success comes from being well-liked and having an impressive list of contacts in both parties. “He’s able to work with both sides,” Foster says. “Eddie takes the spin out of immigration reform and relays the reality of the situation.”
Aldrete likens immigration reform to an iceberg: “The 15 percent that everyone is paying attention to is just the tip of that iceberg. It’s what’s down below that sunk the Titanic.” The part that could sink America’s future, according to Aldrete, is our declining fertility rate, our rapidly aging population, and close to 82 million baby boomers on the edge of retirement.
Aldrete went into action in 2006 as Congress considered penalizing people for handing out bottled water to immigrants in the desert—while failing to fix the immigration system. “Basically, we had a situation where a pipe had burst in the kitchen, and instead of fixing the pipe they were sending in more mops,” he says.
Four years later, the immigration debate has only grown shriller and less substantive. Aldrete expects to be busy this upcoming legislative session. He plans to counter the more politically divisive rhetoric with facts and statistics. “It’s easy to get sucked into the emotional side of the immigration debate,” he says. “But this is not a partisan issue, and the solutions are not partisan, either.”