The Dallas Morning News ran an excellent editorial today about some of the proposed new immigration legislation in Austin. This is important enough to reprint in full:
Picture a Texas where city police officers become foot soldiers in a push to corral and deport people who are in the country illegally. Picture neighborhood schools as part of the screening process to sort out who has immigration papers and who does not.
It’s a jarring picture that radically changes the jobs that cops and educators already work hard to get done.
Yet it’s the image we get from lawmakers in Austin who have filed – with dramatic flourish – bills to put local officials in the business of immigration enforcement.
They represent a wedge issue in next year’s legislative session. Lawmakers’ attention will be dominated by the painful job of chopping up to $25 billion out of the state budget. Even so, some of the most conservative lawmakers are creating a sideshow out of their vows to pass Arizona-type laws to crack down on illegal immigrants.
There is no doubt that local taxpayers pay the bill for services for people in the country illegally, and Texans have justification to be steamed at Washington’s refusal to piece together a workable immigration policy. But these Austin proposals would do nothing to pay for services, secure the border or deal systematically with millions of people who overstay their visas.
What the proposals would do is make cops on the streets responsible for determining whether someone is in the country illegally before making the arrest. The problem with that is the naive notion that cops can do this job with little chance of racial profiling.
An arrest could come only during a stop on a separate infraction, but it would require the police officer to check with federal immigration officials on a suspect’s status. The problem is the time and energy that would take from officers who should concentrate on catching dangerous people.
The author of the legislation filed in the House is Debbie Riddle, aRepublican from the Houston suburb of Tomball. One of her bills, she said, would require “school districts to report the number of illegal aliens attending their schools.” Local educators don’t need a time-consuming new mandate from Austin and the distraction of becoming de-facto immigration inspectors. Schoolchildren shouldn’t be caught in the middle of document searches and background checks. Education should be the priority.
Riddle filed her legislation with much stagecraft. She camped outside the House – yard chairs and all – so she could be first in line for her bill filings.
Politicians like to say that Austin is different from other state capitals, that members put aside party differences “for the good of Texas.” New House Speaker Joe Straus, a centrist Republican, was able to restore some of that spirit last year.
Going into the 2011 session, the GOP majority in the Legislature is bigger, bolder and farther to the right. What’s certain is that lawmakers will have some of the most polarizing political battles imaginable. These battles will be not so much “for the good of Texas” as they will be for the good of people’s political resumes.