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Unlikely Coalition Pushes Back Against Arizona-Style Immigration Legislation in Texas

by Corrie MacLaggan

Five days before the Legislature convenes , representatives of civil rights, business and religious organizations sounded alarms about Arizona-style immigration legislation and other proposals that they say are anti-immigrant and would be harmful to Texas families and businesses.

"The xenophobic agenda has come to Texas," Adriana Cadena, a coordinator with the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, said at a Capitol news conference on Thursday. Cadena, whose alliance is a statewide network pushing immigration reform, was joined by dozens of advocates from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund , the Texas Catholic Conference and other groups.

The cause forged unlikely alliances - bringing the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas together with entities it is likely to tangle with on other issues: a powerful state business group and a West Texas sheriff.

Though some immigration legislation didn't pass in recent years, the proposals could have more traction this year because Republicans hold a much larger majority in the House. One bill drawing attention is an Arizona-style proposal that would create a state crime for people who enter the country illegally and are detained for other offenses.

Cadena said there are more than 40 bills she considers anti-immigrant, including one that would require school districts to determine the citizenship status of students and another that would require local governments that don't enforce immigration laws to forfeit state funding.

Both of those bills - and the Arizona-style legislation - were authored by state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, who said that her proposals are in no way anti-immigrant.

"I just don't understand what all the brouhaha is about," Riddle said in an interview. "I'm doing what I think my constituents and the vast majority of the people of Texas are wanting. They are wanting their border secure."

But Bill Hammond, executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said at the news conference that progress on immigration reform should come from Washington - not Austin.

It's not every day that Hammond, whose organization is often aligned with Republicans, stands at a news conference alongside the ACLU.

"Most Republicans are favoring this type of legislation, and they're our traditional friends - that's not a secret," Hammond said after the event. "It's our hope they will ... slow down, take a hard look at the long-term impact on Texas before they enact this legislation."

He's concerned that convention business and investments in the state would dry up if Texas passes Arizona-style legislation.

"If this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state's motto as well," said Hammond.

Texas' motto is "friendship."

The Arizona law - parts of which have been held up in court - requires police to question the immigration status of suspects if they have "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has said that the Arizona measure would not be a good fit for Texas.

Riddle said her bill would give officers more discretion than the Arizona bill does.

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said at the news conference that he's opposed to legislation that saddles law enforcement officers with the additional burden of enforcing federal immigration laws. Texas sheriffs are divided on immigration legislation.

Also at the event, Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said that many of the immigration proposals are either bad policy or simply unconstitutional.

Immigration proposals this session include one by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, that says if someone is legally stopped for probable cause and doesn't have identification, the police officer must ask if the person is in the country legally.

Patrick said that though many people who enter this country illegally are just trying to better their lives, "the truth is that there are a lot of bad people coming here."

He said that Thursday's news conference was more about biased rhetoric than sound argument.

"We have allowed some loud voices to try to make this an anti-Latino issue, and it's not," Patrick said. "This is about people coming here illegally and breaking the law."

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