Austin’s Largest Selection of international Folk Art, Silver jewelry and Textiles TRADING COMPANY FOLK ART OTHER TREASURES FROM AROUND THE WORLD \\I OPEN CONGRESS AVE AUSTIN 512/479-8377 \\IOPEN DAILY 10-6 www.tesoros.comill the hardship that could be inflicted on his workers. “He has a perspective other than the economic;’ Noriega says. Hammond and Anchia continued their discussions at a June conference in Dallas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Two Democratic state representatives, Veronica Gonzales of McAllen and Pete Gallego of Alpine, joined Aldrete and other MALC members and worked with TAB over the summer to produce a list of shared principles. The result was a call for comprehensive immigration reform that permits enough legal immigration to meet labor demands, provides some sort of path to legalization for those already here, and creates a workable system of verification for employers. The toughest part of the deal was letting those here become citizens, Hammond says. “We had an exhaustive meeting with our board members:’ They were persuaded that “it’s better to allow people to come from the shadows,” he says. Meanwhile, Texas-based businesses were forming another group to promote immigration reform at the national levelTexas Employers for Immigration Reform, which counts Perry Homes and Pilgrim’s Pride, as well as TAB, among its 60-plus members. Tamar Jacoby, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, came to Texas last summer to help organize employers around immigration reform. She worked closely with the new employers coalition, focusing on getting a bill passed in Washington. “We need the voice of employers in the debate;’ Jacoby says. “Democrats can’t pass a bill without Republican support, and who’s going to convince Republicans if not business people in Texas?” Jacoby says groups like TEIR are forming in Arizona, Florida, and Colorado as well. TAB and MALC held a joint press conference in August, and TEIR “fed off the momentum” the next day with its first meeting, Reaves says. At first, businesses were hesitant to sign on for fear of being accused of hiring undocumented workers, he says. Aldrete agrees: “The only people that were speaking out were the associations. Many of the indi vidual businesses did not want to stick their head up for fear that they would be scrutinized or criticized or paid a visit by immigration authorities!’ After the November elections, the immigration jockeying commenced in the Lege. Texas Conservative Coalition members filed their bills. Anchia made sure to file legislation involving employer sanctions. His House Bill 351 would exclude companies who hire undocumented workers from the Texas Enterprise Fund. The fund is part of Gov. Rick Perry’s program to attract business with incentives and grants. Anchia says he didn’t expect the bill to pass and saw it as a way to further engage business interests on immigration. With the TABMALC coalition solid, Anchia decided to withdraw the bill as a sign of good will but warns that employer-sanction amendments are ready if there is a fight over immigration bills in the House chamber. Two important public steps took place before the session began in January, Anchia says. The governor said he didn’t want immigration debate to happen on the state level, and a state comptroller report released in December showed that illegal immigrants contributed $17.7 billion to the Texas economy in 2005. By this time, Speaker Tom Craddick had also put out the word privately that he had no appetite for an immigration debate in the House. Craddick’s fellow Republicans knew that the activist base of their own party would not be pleased. Perhaps the most inspired effort to cover their tracks came from Rep. David Swinford of Dumas. He chairs the House Committee on State Affairs, the destination of most anti-immigrant legislation. Swinford promised to refer many of the immigration bills to the attorney general to see if the state Legislature had legal authority. “I just figured there wasn’t much sense in wasting time and effort on things that weren’t constitutional;’ Swinford says. “The attorney general has to defend what we pass. There’s no sense in tying him up in court for the rest of his life.” Swinford agrees that immigration is a federal issue. Predictably, some GOP legislative hard-liners were unhappy. Tyler Republican Rep. Leo Berman filed some of the most constitutionally dubious anti-immigration bills and criticized TAB. As quoted in an Austin AmericanStatesman editorial, Berman said, “I’m a life member of the TAB and I am absolutely disappointed, and will probably drop my membership since they got involved in an issue of illegal aliens, which has nothing to do with business:’ Hammond says Berman hasn’t sent a letter or resigned. “TAB has a lot of influence on members that we might not normally be able to reach,” Rep. Gonzales says. It’s the kind of alliance that is only strange because of legislative polarization in recent years, says Noriega. Hammond agrees. “Coalitions are the way you get things done:’ Hammond says. “There’s greater strength when two groups that are not natural allies get together on an issue … It’s a man-bites-dog story:’ Those who fear immigration will still have an opportunity to say so. Swinford’s State Affairs panel will hold a public hearing in late March on many of the immigration bills. “There will be a ‘day without a Mexican’ hearing date on those bills so they can load up and get it off their chests:’ says Noriega. “But I think it will have a lot of difficulty getting on the floor.” Megan Headley is a Texas Observer legislative intern. MARCH 23, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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