HARLINGEN, RGV – In a televised debate on Tuesday evening, gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis offered sharply contrasting views on two top immigration issues in Texas.
Davis said she supports allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s permit to allow them to drive legally and with insurance on Texas roads. Abbott said that would fall foul of federal law.
Davis also said she would veto any legislation that seeks to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Abbott said he would not veto such legislation.
The debate, the second of two televised duels between the gubernatorial candidates, took place in Dallas and was hosted by KERA-TV.
Norma García, an anchor with Telemundo 39 KXTX-TV in Dallas, asked the question about driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. The question came from a viewer, Martha in Fort Worth. The question was: “What is your position on providing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants?”
Abbott, the Republican attorney general, responded: “Norma or I guess it is Martha who is asking that question. We have seen problems with laws like that be challenged, if you would, by the federal Real ID Act. I think that before we go down the pathway of trying to create these differentiated types of drivers’ licenses, we need to make sure that we are complying with federal law and not providing licenses that others could use for inappropriate purposes.”
Davis, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth, was asked by García if undocumented immigrants were getting preferential treatment. She asked Davis if the State of Texas, by allowing immigrants to drive on Texas roads with a state permit, would not be creating a registry of second class citizens.
Davis responded: “I do not believe it creates special treatment for undocumented immigrants. Instead, what it does address is a very real challenge in our state: the fact that people are driving on our roads across this state today who do not have the appropriate training and who are not insured. Unless we as a State create some system that provides a driver permit for every driver on the road we cannot assure those two things,” Davis said.
Davis added: “Other states have successfully done this, requiring in exchange for that permit special training to make sure that we have safe drivers on the road and proof of insurance. In my time as a Texas senator and before that as a city council person I heard repeatedly from people who were involved in accidents with uninsured drivers in many instances who were not in our state or our country legally. And I believe these driver permits and the accompanying requirement of insurance is important to keep all drivers safe on the road.”
In the rebuttal period, García asked Abbott what should undocumented immigrants who want to abide by the rule and have insurance do in the meantime.
Abbott responded: “You’ve really raised the pivotal question. And that is, we are dealing with the challenge, whether it be with drivers licenses or so many other issues, we are dealing with undocumented individuals. And so the problem, whether it be to Marta or whomever, this problem is never going to be fixed as long as we have the broken immigration system that we have. If we want to fix the problem about insuring that those who are here are driving safely on the road with a drivers’ license, what we really need to do is to fix our broken immigration system. Once we do that then all these peripheral issues will get resolved.”
Also in the rebuttal period, García asked Davis what undocumented immigrants who need to drive should do in the meantime.
Davis responded: “I support comprehensive immigration reform and making sure that if people are willing to pass a background check, learn English and pay back taxes owed in our state, that they have a path to become a legal worker here. It is modeled after President George Bush’s plan. But, let’s face it we are not going to see that happen anytime soon because Congress has failed to do its job to pass that kind of reform.”
Davis added: “I believe that Texas can’t wait and that in this next legislative session we do need to address the issue of making sure that every driver on our road has proper training and is insured to keep other drivers on our roads safe.”
The issue of Texas’ version of the DREAM Act, allowing some undocumented immigrants the opportunity to go to college at in-state tuition rates, was brought up by panelist Gromer Jeffers, Jr., a reporter with the Dallas Morning News.
Jeffers said Texas has a law that allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition. Why allow undocumented students such a benefit and does the law encourage a flow of undocumented immigrants into Texas, asked Jeffers.
Davis responded: “It is good for our economy to make sure that every person who lives here has an opportunity to be a vibrant part of the Texas economy. During this campaign I have met so many extraordinary young people who are DREAMers, who are here working hard to become something. A young woman named Danni who I met at the Texas State Technical College, who is working on becoming a teacher. She graduated in the top ten percent of her high school class. My opponent has called the DREAM Act flawed. I support the DREAM Act. And if there is any attempt to repeal it and I am sitting at the Governor’s desk, I will veto that attempt. It makes sense for our students; it makes sense for our economy to make sure that every student in Texas can be a successful part of our future.”
Jeffers pointed out that Abbott has said that in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants is a “noble effort.” Would you veto a bill from the Legislature that repeals this law, Jeffers asked.
Abbott responded: “Well, frankly, as Senator Davis was saying, the goals of the law are noble. But to make clear, I think the law as it structured is flawed because the way that it is supposed to work is that a student is supposed to be showing that they are making progress toward establishing legal status. That simply is not being done. But Gromer, here is the real deal and that is all these laws like the in-state tuition law, those are only symptoms of a larger problem. The larger problem, Gromer, is we have a broken immigration system. We will never going to solve these problems until we have fixed our broken immigration system.”
Jeffers asked his question again. Would you veto a bill from the legislature that repeals the law, yes or no? Abbott responded: “Would I veto it? No.”