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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 2 of Texas Tribune Festival

#tribunefest I can't cover all of the discussion today, but will look at a few of the comments that I found interesting.  We started early today with breakfast and Representative Aaron Pena giving us his take on border issues, security, and the need for a guestworker program.  He and I agreed that a guestworker program should be considered a security issue, so that we can actually keep track of immigrants   He emphasized both at breakfast and later in the day at the panel on the economics of immigration reform that those who live on the border have a very different perspective than those who don't.  He noted that it would be a lost opportunity if we don’t deal with immigration.  "Mexicans are like us, carry values that we hold dear, are people of faith, have strong family bonds, and are an asset to us in a global marketplace when when we are competing with India and China." He has been a proponent of a Utah-style guestworker program and thinks the states could be a laboratory for new approaches to immigration.

Eddie Aldrete argued that we have a bad habit of focusing on law enforcement – it’s a component but it can’t be the only focus. "We don’t need to increase the size of the border patrol, if you provide visas they can focus on the bad guys."

Sylvia Acevedo noted that we need to look beyond Mexico -- the demographics show that they are no longer growing as fast and we may need to rely on workers from Pakistan or other parts of the world.

Todd Staples took a more typical approach on illegal immigrants "Comprehension immigration has become a signal that we are giving up.  We need strategies and principles that can get us to where we need to be, like enforcing labor laws through e-verify, but we can’t do that without reforming the immigration system.  We have a failed guest worker program,we need to be documenting current immigrants and a have a pathway to citizenship – from country of origin."

Although some of the panelists emphasized the need for more "boots on the ground" at the border, the overall sentiment from left, right and the business community was for comprehensive immigration reform. They also recognized that we are in a time period when immigration is a visceral issue that is being driven more by emotion than logic.  It will be interesting to see how these issues play out in Texas over the next couple of years and the role that these leaders will  play.

Overall the conversations were interesting, and the participants provided some insights into the way that the discourses around immigration, race and border security are playing out in the state of Texas. Eddie Aldrete's recommended that we need a new bipartisan commission that can look at the immigration issue. I promised to provide some background on previous commissions and their impact, and will try to do so in the next few days.

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