AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - When the regular session of the Texas Legislature ended on Monday, most key immigration legislation was left dead, including a proposal championed by Republican Governor Rick Perry that sought to crack down on cities that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
The failure of the Republican-backed legislation came despite a large GOP majority in both the House and Senate. Texas is one of more than a dozen states where Republicans have sought to tighten immigration laws a year after Arizona passed a high-profile crackdown on illegal immigration.
“If Texas had followed the Arizona path of prejudice, xenophobia and intolerance toward immigrants, the U.S. values of liberty and justice for all would have been eroded in this great state for generations,” said a statement from the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, which opposed the measure.
But now that Perry has called lawmakers back for a special session of the Legislature to address an unresolved budget matter, proponents of the sanctuary city bill have renewed hope that the legislation could have another chance. It’s up to Perry which issues to add to the agenda for the special session, which began on Tuesday.
He had made sanctuary cities an issue during his re-election campaign last year, and he declared the measure an “emergency” priority for the regular session this year.
The measure would have prohibited local governments from banning law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of people who are lawfully detained or arrested.
It wasn’t as strict as the Arizona legislation, which required police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected was in the country illegally, a provision that was subsequently blocked by a judge.
Perry has said the Arizona law wasn’t right for Texas, and the governor has to walk a careful line between showing his conservative base he is tough on immigration while avoiding alienating the state’s rapidly growing Hispanic population.
In the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race, 61 percent of Latino voters chose Bill White, the Democrat, over Perry, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Senator Tommy Williams, the Republican sponsor of the Texas sanctuary cities bill, said on Monday he was confident the governor would add the bill to a special session agenda.
“It would take care of what most people’s concerns are,” Williams told Reuters. “Not economic refugees. It’s people that are here in the country and they’re committing crimes and they’re here illegally.”
Powerful business groups opposed the legislation, as did some police chiefs, who said it would be a burden on local governments.
The House passed the measure, but Senate Democrats - who said that it would lead to racial profiling - succeeded in blocking it. That would be tougher for Democrats to do during the special session because a rule that helped the Democratic minority during the regular session by requiring a vote of two-thirds of senators to bring up a measure is no longer in place.
Opponents of the sanctuary city legislation had held a rally on Friday in San Antonio to celebrate the apparent death of the proposal.
“We don’t need this kind of bill in Texas,” Maria Lopez of the Cesar Chavez Legacy Foundation, which organized the rally, told Reuters. “For one thing, we always as human beings, we always stereotype.”
Republican State Representative Leo Berman had proposed several unsuccessful measures to crack down on illegal immigration, including one that would have ended birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants and another that would have required employers to check the immigration status of employees through the federal E-verify program.
“I’m very disappointed and I know exactly why it happened,” Berman told Reuters.
“From the highest levels in the state of Texas down, there is no will, except for very few, to deal with the tough question of illegal aliens in Texas.”
Editing by Jerry Norton; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth