Legislators discuss illegal immigration

Banning taxpayer-funded day labor sites and stripping undocumented college students of their access to in-state tuition are among proposals in the Texas Legislature that seek to limit the effects of illegal immigration.

But even as they are filing, Republican lawmakers, who have a majority in the House and Senate, said they are mindful that attempting to supersede federal law could bring about lawsuits and alienate Hispanic voters—while having no real impact in the Lone Star State.

Day labor sites debate

HB 181, which would ban cities and counties from using taxpayer funds to build day labor centers, was filed by Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.

The bill would not force counties and cities to close down current centers, but would ban any new centers going forward, Zedler said. He said they are "used for the purpose of facilitating the knowing employment" of illegal immigrants.

"I have problems using taxpayer money to help people who are basically breaking the law," he said.

Critics say the measure forces illegal immigrants to just look for work in other parts of the city.

Since 2000, the City of Tomball has recognized a designated day labor site that is privately owned and maintained. The city reimburses the owner for their yearly taxes, which total about $1,400. The site features a porta-let and benches for workers.

"Individuals looking for day work accumulate in one location instead of throughout the entire downtown area," City Manager George Shackelford said.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, said he hadn't seen the bill so he wouldn't be comfortable taking a position on it.

The day labor site in Tomball, Fletcher said, was built not to help illegal immigrants.

"I assure you that the day labor site was built for the businesses of Tomball to have a place to cordon off the folks that were looking for work," he said. "And if there are some [in the country illegally]—and we'd all be naive not to know that some of the individuals that are there are probably in this country illegally—I would love to use the laws that we have in place and take them out of this country, but our laws in Washington aren't working right now for us."

Education concerns

A bill has been filed by a Dallas representative to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. The bill filing deadline is in March.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said illegal immigration is a problem that should be addressed. But he said Texas should avoid creating laws so harsh that business is stymied or parents are afraid to send their children to school.

"However you feel about illegal immigration, there is no sensible benefit to having the children of illegal immigrants go uneducated while remaining in this country," he said. "No one wins from that outcome."

Robert Biles, political science professor at Sam Houston State University, said many of the illegal immigrants in Texas contribute to the state's economy, including children who grow up and are educated in the state.

"We're just shooting ourselves in the foot by saying we don't want these kids to have an education," he said.

Democrats point to the presidential elections, in which only 29 percent of Latinos voted for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as proof that the GOP approach in the past has only served to alienate them from the Republican Party.

Additional reporting by Carrie Thornton and Matt Stephens