86th LegislatureImmigration & BorderIssuesState SenateDueling Border Security Press Conferences Befall the Capitol

Texas Democrats and Republicans square off over the best way to address America's illegal immigration crisis.
April 17, 2019
Wednesday afternoon brought a frenzy of attention to the Capitol building as Republicans and Democrats offered competing narratives regarding the ongoing crisis at the border. Two press conferences, one preceding the other, headlined by a trio of Texas federal elected officials, laid bare dueling partisan finger-pointing.

In one corner, Senate Democrats, flanked by Congressman Joaquin Castro. In the other, the Senate Republican Caucus — buoyed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. A gaggle of anti-border wall protesters gathered outside for the opportunity to let the members know what they thought about the issue at hand.

What brought these clashing sides together was Senate Resolution 535.

The resolution, passed along party lines on April 2, urges Congress and the President to address the problem at the southern border. Specifically, it states, “the Texas Senate calls upon the United States Congress to adopt a budget that fully funds all means necessary to fully secure the Texas-Mexico international border.”

The resolution urges Congress to start with “deploying personnel, implementing effective technologies, and erecting barriers where needed.” Additionally, the resolution also declares the situation at the southern border a “crisis” and “national emergency,” and lends support to the President in his efforts to utilize executive authority under the National Emergencies Act to begin constructing a wall.

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Both sides seemed to agree, at least rhetorically, that there is a crisis. That’s where the agreement ended.

State Sen. Josè Rodríguez (D-El Paso) began the press conference by scolding his Republican counterparts for “making America scared again” by enabling the “paranoid fantasy of [President] Trump.” The El Paso Democrat also added that “it’s sad” their amendment to “keep families together and treat immigrants humanely” was not part of the original text.

Congressman Joaquin Castro went on to insist that SR 535 “plays into Donald Trump’s hands” and that “shutting down the border would be disastrous for Texas businesses.” Castro also alluded that the proposed border wall would result in “the largest federal land taking in Texas history.” President Trump said in late March that if Mexico did not immediately stop all illegal immigration coming into the United States, he would close the border.

Each Democrat took the opportunity to define the “crisis” largely around the issues of separating families, stoking fear, and providing insufficient foreign aid to Central American countries from where a significant number of illegal immigrants are coming. Senator West also stated that the “border issues have to be addressed by Congress.” He added that “[we] are for a strong border.”

Republicans followed shortly thereafter with their own press conference and stressed the dire need for border security as the policy remedy. Kicked off by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (Houston), the GOP called for Congress to fund the wall and provide additional security measures. U.S. Senator John Cornyn added that he’s glad “the Texas Senate is stepping up” to address what “should be a bipartisan issue.”

Border security has consistently remained a high-priority issue for Texans. In March, a UT/Tribune poll found 36 percent of Texans believe it to be the top priority for the Lone Star State.

Sen. Ted Cruz touched on a more personal note, stating that community leaders wrote to him and stressed that “the volume of illegal crossings is overwhelming our capacity to deal with it.” According to data cited by Cruz from the U.S. Border Patrol, this includes a 370 percent increase in families apprehended at the border through the Fiscal Year 2019.

So far, 361,087 illegal immigrants have been apprehended crossing the southern border illegally — including nearly 100,000 in the month of March alone.

Additionally, recent data by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows that 194,000 criminal illegal aliens have been charged for more than 303,000 crimes in the state of Texas since June 2011.

Lt. Governor Patrick gave an impassioned statement, declaring that his “number one focus is the safety of Texans.” However, Patrick did not shy away from the humanitarian component of the border debate and spent much of his time pointing specifically to “the children, women, and elderly [border crossers] who are being left to die in no man’s land.” He cited the 1,671 dead bodies of illegal border crossers documented by state officials thus far.

The Lt. Governor also emphasized the sex trafficking problem at the border as well — an issue border security hawks have increasingly pointed out as being tied to violent drug cartels operating in Mexico. “What about the 59 young women who were being forced [into sex slavery], and were found by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) a few weeks ago,” Patrick implored.

While the press conference highlighted very clear differences between Republicans and Democrats, SR 535 contains no real legal teeth to address the issue at the border. As a resolution, it serves as little more than a statement to the President that there is a problem at the border which must be fixed — a vague enough notion that allows both Republicans and Democrats to verbally agree.

On the substance of the border crisis and policy solutions to resolve it, however, it’s increasingly clear both parties remain as far apart as ever.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.