WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas shares the largest border with Mexico and is home state to President Bush, who assigned two Cabinet secretaries to get an immigration reform bill through Congress.
So why were Texas’ senators two of the most ardent opponents of the sweeping bill? Why were neither among the “Gang of 12” who help stitch together the now-dead compromise?
Hutchison and Cornyn will list a disdain for the amnesty provisions in the bill, a need for greater border security and tougher restrictions on illegal immigrants. But also in the list is the reality of Texas politics.
Cornyn faces re-election in 2008 and Hutchison is considering a possible gubernatorial run in 2010. Each needs the votes of GOP conservatives who still run the state’s Republican Party and turn out heavily in the March primaries.
“The immigration bill has a lot of moving parts and as a consequence, politicians are careful, especially those who have an election next season and especially those wanting to come home and run for governor,” said Bill Miller, an Austin political consultant.
Republicans still hold every elected office in Texas and the Democratic Party still is rebuilding. Cornyn faces no opposition in the primary, but his general election is attracting the attention of the national Democratic Party, which considers him vulnerable.
“No amnesty. No how. No way,” says a headline introducing the illegal immigration section of the state Republican platform. And state GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser issued a statement Friday commending Cornyn and Hutchison for their votes on the issue.
With those guiding principles, staking out middle ground on immigration offers little for those looking for the party’s nomination.
Cornyn and Hutchison voted against speeding the immigration bill to final passage, helping to shelve the bill late Thursday.
A group of Texas employers attempted what they described as a “full court press” on Cornyn and Hutchison to persuade them to vote for it. The employers ran an ad in The Dallas Morning News asking them to support the bill. They also ran television and newspaper ads in Washington emphasizing their need for workers in construction, restaurant, hotel and agriculture industries.
But they ran into ardent opposition from the GOP base.
“There’s a large vocal minority within the Republican primary voters that are adamantly opposed to the bill, “ said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business and a member of Texas Employers for Immigration Reform.
Cornyn said calls to his office about the bill had been “overwhelmingly negative,” as were comments from constituents he met in the state during a weeklong Memorial Day recess.
“In my trips to Texas last week there’s a lot of people very upset about this whole issue,” Cornyn said. “I’ve even had a constituent suggest the Senate is selling citizenship for $5,000.” The Senate bill called for illegal immigrants to pay fines of at least $5,000.
Cornyn offered an amendment that would have required visa applicants to remain in the country and work legally. It was perceived as a measure that would kill the compromise holding the bill together and was defeated.
Hutchison withheld her support for the bill as she pushed for an amendment that required all illegal immigrants to leave the country before they could obtain so-called “Z” visas to legally work.
The Senate bill allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the country indefinitely with the Z visa but required them to leave to obtain a green card for legal permanent residency,
“I think everyone would feel better if we had the law set both now and in the future that if you want to work legally in this country you have to apply from outside,” Hutchison said.
The bill is S.1348.