AUSTIN, Texas – Given what happened with the vote on immigration reform at the Texas GOP Convention last weekend, Hispanic Republicans are being urged to ditch their party and join the Democratic ranks.

State Reps. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, and Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, say Hispanic Republicans will find the Democratic Party in Texas far more inclusive and more in line with their thinking on issues such as bringing immigrants out of the shadows.

“We would most definitely welcome Hispanic Republicans with open arms,” said Guerra, who described himself as fiscally conservative. Guerra said Texas House members such as state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, deserved better treatment at the Texas GOP Convention.

“I am proud to work with Jason Villalba in the House of Representatives. I consider him a fine man, an excellent family man and a good person. I think he is trying to do the right thing in the Republican Party but I think he recognizes that the unreasonable positions taken by the leadership and the statewide candidates is unhealthy for Texas and it is unhealthy for our economy,” Guerra said.

Asked if he was surprised to the see the Republicans reverse course on immigration reform, Guerra said: “I was not shocked or surprised. Based on all the ugly rhetoric we have been hearing during the Republican Party primary and the runoffs for the statewide races, it does not surprise me at all.”

Villalba wrote an op-ed before the GOP Convention urging rank and file Republicans to get behind the “Texas Solution” to immigration reform. The Texas Solution did not support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but did include a guest worker program.

The headline for Villalba’s op-ed was “The Future of the Republican Party Hangs in the Balance.”

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said the Texas GOP Convention vote on immigration moves his party on a 'narrower pathway of divisiveness and exclusion.'
State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said the Texas GOP Convention vote on immigration moves his party on a ‘narrower pathway of divisiveness and exclusion.’

In the op-ed, Villalba acknowledged that “movement conservatives” have strengthened their position within the Republican Party in Texas. He said that in the name of “border security” and in opposition to “amnesty,” some members of his party have proposed that the Texas Solution be deleted in its entirety from the party’s platform. Some even want the platform to revert to an enforcement-only “deport them all” position, he said.

Villalba said if the Texas GOP reversed course and did remove the Texas Solution, “Hispanics will perceive the move as yet another data point that Republicans do not appreciate people of color and that they are unwelcome in our Party. It may not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but it is nevertheless one more piece of straw.”

Villalba lost out. Not only did a majority of convention delegates ditch the guest worker program they would not even support a watered down “work permit” plan. The Texas Solution was jettisoned.

Interviewed afterwards by the Quorum Report, Villalba said he was saddened.

“Ronald Reagan taught us that we should aspire to make our party bigger and stronger by appealing to the compassion and humanity of all people. Today, I fear we have strayed from this precept and chosen the narrower pathway of divisiveness and exclusion,” Villalba said. “I remain a proud Republican and a committed conservative, but I shall adhere to Reagan’s principles and will continue to fight for thoughtful and common-sense immigration reforms.”

Rep. Martinez said it was clear from the GOP convention vote that Hispanic Republicans like Villalba are fighting a losing battle. He said it would take “decades” for Villalba and his Hispanic colleagues to get the Republican Party to mirror the views of the Hispanic community. Much better, he said, join the Democratic Party and create a major realignment in Texas politics.

“The Republican leadership believes that if it can capture 30 percent of the Hispanic vote it will be able to cling to power for quite some time. They want to do this not by changing their stance on issues like immigration reform or supporting public education or getting more people insured but by placing a few token Hispanics in leadership roles,” Martinez said.

“But Hispanic Republicans would never have any influence over the party’s platform. They would remain powerless. Whereas, if the Hispanic Republicans come over to our party, which is more inclusive, they would have more influence. If Republicans were out of power for two or three cycles they would soon come round to being more inclusive of Hispanics. It would be good for Texas.”

Asked if he would welcome Rep. Villalba and his supporters, Martinez said: “We would welcome these Republicans into our party so we can continue to work on common sense immigration reform and other common sense policies. Yet again, the Republican Party has let down our Hispanic community. They will not address issues that matter to working people.”

According to a new poll from Brookings, 63 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship for immigrants who are living in the United States illegally. Martinez said the findings of the poll “clearly puts the Texas Republican Party at odds with most Americans on the issue of immigration.”

McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party Chairman Jim Barnes attended the Texas GOP Convention, which was held in Fort Worth. Two years ago, Barnes spoke from the floor of the convention in favor of the Texas Solution. However, he said he understood why it was struck down.

“I spoke on the floor two years ago to get the Texas Solution passed. I knew there were flaws in it but we needed a springboard for discussion. It has been a springboard for discussion. I was hoping they were going to fix the flaws but they didn’t. They wanted to rehash the Texas Solution, which nobody really wants. The Texas Solution was too weak on how to close the border. It did not give us any guidance on what needs to be done to close the border,” Barnes said.

Asked how the border could be secure, Barnes said: “It will not happen if all you talk about is boots on the ground. We have to do something about the freebies people get when they come here. Some people can get on welfare right away. Also, it is too easy for illegal immigrants to get jobs because E-Verify is not working and is not enforced. And as for Social Security Cards, you can get those anywhere. You can buy one in Mexico if you want one.”

Barnes added that he is in agreement with a majority of Tea Party members and conservatives. “Tea Partiers and conservatives have said this all along: close the border first before we start talking about a pathway to citizenship or guest worker programs. You have got to close the border first.”

Asked to respond to the “secure the border first” argument, Rep. Guerra said: “I live 20 miles from the border. My family ranches near the border. A lot of the scare tactics that you hear and read from the current leadership of the Republican Party is just flat not true. We do not have gunfights going on in our streets here. The position the GOP has taken is unreasonable. Building a wall is not going to do it. A sensible and just immigration policy is what we need – one that rewards those who are working hard and contributing to society. We need to make Texas a better place to live.”

Guerra said such a stance does not make him soft of border security. “Those who come over here to commit crimes, by golly, they need to be dealt with. Those who want to come here and work hard, we should be able to come up with some form of system that will allow them to do that because it will help our economy.”

Guerra added that farmers desperately need a guest worker program. “I am very business-oriented. The business community wants immigration reform. From a business standpoint it makes sense, from a humanistic standpoint it makes sense. And from a compassionate standpoint, it speaks for itself.”