State Rep: I Was an Undocumented Immigrant

In a statement yesterday, Governor Rick Perry applauded the passage of one of his legislative emergency items—HB 12, otherwise known as the “sanctuary cities” bill.  The bill roiled the House for three days in a divisive and highly emotional debate before it passed on the final read Tuesday afternoon 100 to 47. You can’t help but feel that it was a pyrrhic victory for Republicans creating bitterness among the Legislative body and alienating just about everyone except Republicans who supported the bill.

Throughout the debate, Republican state Rep. Solomons, author of the bill, worked to differentiate his bill from the controversial Arizona immigration law passed last year.  He explained that the Arizona bill requires police to check for citizenship status. His bill prevents cities and state agencies from prohibiting it. “My bill doesn’t mandate anything,” he said. “It just creates a uniform policy so that cities can’t opt out of federal immigration policies.”

HB 12 requires that any city, school district, groundwater district or other state agency follow the law or lose state funding. The bill also allows citizens to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office against any city, police department or other state agency that doesn’t follow the sanctuary city law. The AG would then decide whether the complaint was worthy of a lawsuit.

Solomons accepted Republican amendments to prohibit racial profiling and exclude school districts with the exception of campus police from checking for citizenship status.

Tuesday, after it was all said and done and HB 12 was passed, Houston Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna gave one of the most poignant personal privilege speeches in the history of the Texas House. Hernandez Luna told the chamber that she had grown up undocumented in Texas. The amnesty granted by President Ronald Reagan in the 80s had allowed her family to come out of the shadows, she said.

“I remember the constant fear I lived with each day,” she said. “The daily task to go buy groceries, it was a simple task for you but for us it was a death sentence because at any time one of my parents could be deported. Some say immigrant children are a drain on public schools. I don’t consider myself a drain. I graduated at 16 with honors got a bachelors degree, got a law degree and was elected to the Texas House at age 27,” she said. “I know firsthand the impact HB 12 will have on families who are undocumented, the fear mothers will feel when they go to the grocery store.”

There was scarcely a pause to consider her words on the House floor, before the next bill came up for debate. For immigrants like Hernandez Luna, the bill brought up raw emotion and carried real implications just like it does for at least 135,000 undocumented students living in limbo in Texas. For Republicans it was politics. This week, Senate Republican Brian Birdwell tried to pass an amendment preventing undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition, which was fortunately defeated. Too bad, it wasn’t the same fate for Republican Rep. Burt Solomons’ HB 12.

Republicans have a choice: They can bring people out of the shadows to become leaders like Rep. Hernandez Luna or they can spur generations of uneducated Texans who fear a simple trip to the grocery store. Now, HB 12 moves on to the Senate — let’s hope the Legislature’s other chamber doesn’t choose the latter.

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

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Published at 3:10 am CST