Business leaders form new coalition to pressure lawmakers on immigration

The following article originally appeared on The Quorum Report and was republished with permission.

Hoping to add a sense of urgency for Texas Republicans in Washington, business groups that represent thousands of employers across the state came together at the Capitol in Austin Monday to call for comprehensive immigration reform votes in the US House. The Senate, as you know, swiftly passed a bipartisan bill last year but it has stalled in the lower chamber where Speaker John Boehner hasn’t been clear about his strategy.

As QR first reported, Boehner was privately telling Texas business interests late last year that he would move soon to hold immigration votes after his members had gotten past their primaries. Now, that sense of urgency seems to have faded following backlash from the Tea Party wing of the GOP.

The Texas Restaurant Association, the Texas Retailers Association, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, the Texas Association of Business, Texas Citrus and Vegetable Growers, and others are now joining with a group called the Partnership for a New American Economy.

Though the Republican conference has been the problem, the new coalition called on both "Republicans and Democrats" to lead "the way in promoting a practical immigration reform and border solution."

Robert Howard with the South Texans' Property Rights Association said Texans “are supposed to understand this issue better than anyone. Politics shouldn’t trump the realities of what is happening on the ground.”

Restaurant Association CEO Richie Jackson said his industry and others have trouble finding enough authorized workers, plain and simple. "Our challenges aren’t confined to staffing our restaurants themselves and our challenges aren’t limited to the restaurant industry. A broken immigration system makes it difficult for all business sectors to build new projects and invest in growing our businesses,” Jackson said. “Our hope is that by working together, the industries represented here today can make a difference and get Congress moving on immigration.”

This new business coalition is coming together while the immigration battle plays out on multiple fronts. There is not only concern that Congress will do nothing, but Texas Republicans are wrestling with how the party will approach the issue in the 2015 legislative session and beyond. The Texas Republican Party is poised to have a nasty fight over the party's stance on the issue at its convention in June.

Two years ago, the Texas GOP adopted a more nuanced stance on immigration - including a guest worker program - but, there are those in the party like Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams who want to strip out that language and return to an enforcement-only approach. Sen. Patrick has promised to bring back the debate over so-called “sanctuary cities” if he wins the race for Lite Guv, and he has flogged his Republican opponents for being – as he sees it – soft on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

The landscape has changed fairly quickly over the last few years.

In 2011, there were more than 100 Arizona-style immigration crackdown bills filed in the Legislature. The business community fought back and none of them passed. In 2012, the GOP adopted the guest worker provision in its platform which helped create the environment in which no bills of that nature were even filed in the 2013 session. In fact, the Texas House last year actually debated an amendment to provide driver permits for undocumented immigrants who can no longer renew their Texas driver’s licenses.

Though the amendment failed, some saw it as a positive sign that instead of debating a crackdown, lawmakers were talking about a way to try to ensure that undocumented people in Texas have to learn our traffic laws and would not face barriers to purchasing car insurance.

Copyright March 31, 2014, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved.


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