With less than eight weeks to go until the primary election, the four Republicans running for lieutenant governor continue to mix it up over an issue that always riles Texas voters.
Look at any poll on issues important to Texans and illegal immigration ranks at or near the top.
For many conservative voters it’s a question of how to stop the flow of undocumented people crossing into Texas from Mexico, and how to reduce the number of those already here.
“The answer is to help them where they’re at so they don’t need to come to the U.S. and drain our resources here,” said Dave Smith, president of the Denton County Republican tea party.
Denton County Commissioner Hugh Coleman feels much the same way.
“If they came in illegally, they need to leave and re-enter,” Coleman said.
Both men were in an audience of about 300 Republicans Monday night as the party’s four lieutenant governor candidates laid claim to the title “defender of the border.”
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who’s running for reelection, touted his efforts to provide more high tech surveillance along the 1,200-mile boundary Texas shares with Mexico.
“Over the last five years we’ve appropriated $800 million of your Texas tax dollars in buying high-altitude spotter aircraft with X-Ray, with infrared to see at night,” Dewhurst said, adding there are also “helicopters to go up and down the border to see at night.”
“We’ve put Texas Ranger SWAT teams in the brush to interdict people involved in human trafficking, illegal immigration, drugs coming in,” he said.
State Sen. Dan Patrick from Houston says he’s also sponsored legislation designed to drive down the number of undocumented people in Texas.
“I authored a bill to end sanctuary cities. (Sen.)Brian Birdwell and I tried to repeal instate tuition,” Patrick said.
Then, as Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples told voters to check out his book on beefing up border security, Patrick took aim at Staples' record.
“In his book he failed to tell voters that in 2001 he voted to give in-state tuition to illegals. He voted to give drivers licenses to illegals in 2001,” Patrick said.
Staples fired back, accusing Patrick of “putting a spin on things.”
He has said he never knowingly voted to give driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and he now wants to repeal the law that gives in-state tuition to undocumented students who’ve graduated from Texas high schools.
“The reason we have said that in-state tuition should be repealed is because that was based upon those students correcting their status (and becoming legal residents). It has not been enforced,” Staples said.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson was the only lieutenant governor candidate who told the Denton crowd how he would specifically address the millions of undocumented immigrants already here.
Patterson supports the guest worker program proposal that generated hot debate among party members before it became part of the state Republican platform in 2012.
“We are doing the wrong thing if our border patrol is chasing the kid who works in the kitchen at the local restaurant instead of chasing coyotes, narco-traffickers and criminals,” Patterson said. “We need to prioritize.”
The plan Patterson backs would allow immigrant workers to temporarily fill jobs when no U.S. workers are available. It would require those with immigration violations to pay a fine before participating in the program.