August 20, 2008

GOP lawmakers question Texas AG on immigration issues

By KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Texas Republican lawmakers want an attorney general's opinion on how far the state can go in dealing with illegal immigration, providing an early snapshot of the looming fight in the Texas Legislature next year.

On Tuesday, Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott if the state could legally yank the business licenses of employers who hire illegal workers, hinting that such strong sanctions – already enacted in Arizona – could find support in the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature.

They also asked if they're allowed to ban cities from enacting "sanctuary" ordinances that prohibit city workers, including police, from enforcing immigration laws – as Fort Worth and Austin have done.

"I really believe that the citizenry are asking for something to be done," said Mr. Corte, chairman of the House GOP.

The two questions are a warning shot to immigration advocates and the business community about where some of the hot spots of the debate will be.

Several cities already encourage their police not to focus on immigration status of witnesses and victims, and some legislators want to ban such practices.

As for stronger business sanctions, Mr. Corte said he thinks such a proposal would get support in the GOP-controlled House, in spite of what is sure to be strong resistance from the business community – which tends to support Republicans and are major donors to state leaders like Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Last year, Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, withdrew his proposal to cut businesses from the Texas Enterprise Fund for immigration violations after business groups agreed to support reforms at the federal level and not the state level.

On Tuesday, Mr. Anchia maintained that comprehensive reform at the federal level was the way to solve the problem, not "patchwork" state laws that he said do more harm than good.

"I understand everyone's frustration with the lack of action by the federal government, but trying to legislate federal immigration law from the state level could have detrimental effects on our already soft economy," he said.

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