88th LegislatureImmigration & BorderIssuesStatewide NewsDemocratic Chair Attempts to Hush Use of Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’ During Committee Meeting

The state demographer’s office was providing testimony on census data and population growth in Texas over the last few years.
March 2, 2023
During legislative testimony, Chairwoman Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) admonished Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) for using the term “illegal immigrant” in a question directed to Dr. Monica Cruz of the state demographer’s office.

Cruz told the House County Affairs Committee that about 1,300 people moved to Texas daily between 2021 and 2022, for a total of more than 470,000 additional residents during that time frame. Only 902 people moved to Texas per day on average between 2020 and 2021, which Cruz ascribed to the pandemic.

Texas has a population of more than 30 million people, and is gaining population faster than any other state, she added.

Tinderholt asked Cruz if she included illegal immigrants when referring to “Texans.” After Neave raised her frustration with the term illegal immigrant, he rephrased his question to ask if Cruz could break down how much of the population increase is attributable to people coming from other states versus Mexico.

Cruz said her numbers were a “combination of international migration” and “domestic migration from other states,” taking into account births and deaths. The U.S. Census does not ask about legal status.

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Neave, the head of the committee, again took issue with Tinderholt’s terminology.

“I’m going to ask the members to keep their remarks on … we’re going to try to not have politicized discussions right now, especially at our first meeting (inaudible),” Neave said.

“I hear you and I agree, but I’m not going to have anyone dictate the terms I use or don’t use, period. It’s not gonna happen,” Tinderholt replied.

“No, we will have a discussion afterwards, but we’re calling order in this meeting,” Neave told Tinderholt.

“Illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” are used in law and elsewhere to refer to someone who entered a country without authorization. Some view the phrases as being too pejorative, preferring language such as “undocumented immigrant” or “unauthorized immigrant.” However, even those labels are increasingly being replaced by the term “migrant,” which gives no information about the legal status of the persons in question.

While Neave does not have the authority to censor what a member says during committee meetings, she does have the power to decide whether a line of questioning is related to the topic at hand.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) appointed Neave and seven other Democrats to committee chairmanships this session. While he installed fewer Democratic chairs than last session, some Republicans criticized Phelan for appointing Democrats at all. Republicans have a majority of 86 members in the House, while Democrats control only 64 seats.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."