That's an outlying example, but the sanguine sentiment persists in the rest of Texas, where about 38 percent of residents are Hispanic, compared to 16 percent for the nation as a whole. The demographics mean that even politicians who are otherwise inclined to a law-and-order approach recognize that you don't want to arbitrarily alienate a large share of the population.
More pragmatically, Texas has realized that immigrants are a net benefit to the state economy. Documented or otherwise, they work, they spend money, they rent and buy houses, they create jobs, and they start businesses. Consequently, it's no benefit to the state if undocumented immigrants are systemically cut off from the public services -- schools, health care, and police protection -- that help people stabilize. That's why most of Texas's major cities have sanctuary policies in place, and why this year's Perry-backed bill thundering against those policies didn't get anywhere.
To be fair, Texas doesn't struggle with the issue as some states do. Undocumented immigration causes genuine difficulties for communities -- it can strain public services or distort local labor markets. Although Texas's unemployment rate is just a bit below the national number at the moment, it famously went throughout the recession without so much anxiety about jobs, thanks in part to population growth.
Incidentally, this isn't just about Mexicans. Texas also has large immigrant populations from Asia, from Africa, and from elsewhere in Latin America. And the embrace of newcomers extends to domestic migrants. Texas's population swelled by more than 4 million between 2000 and 2010. The figure includes immigrants and babies, but also hundreds of thousands of domestic transplants.
So it's clear that migrants have been good to Texas, and it's also clear that Texas has been fair to migrants. This points to the great bipartisan upside of Perry's candidacy: even if you hate his platform, even if his accent makes you queasy, having the governor in the race has prompted a closer look at what Texas is like and why. There are issues where the state lags behind the nation and there are areas where it leads. Immigration is one of the latter.
It may not be a huge issue in this year's presidential election. There has been a dramatic slowdown in unauthorized immigration in recent years, due to increased enforcement efforts and to the fact that America's shuddering economy has reduced the power of the jobs magnet. That means immigration concerns on both sides of the debate are less voluble than they were in 2008. But if it arises, Perry can keep up. If Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney tries to raise the issue, Perry can simply answer that he has more experience on the subject than they do.
The same goes for the general election, should Perry become the nominee. President Obama's efforts to pursue comprehensive immigration reform have been scattershot. At a round-table with Spanish-language media earlier this month, he told journalists that Republicans in Congress are the holdup, and if Latinos want the issue to get traction they should pledge to withhold support from Republicans until something gets going. A majority of Hispanic voters support Democrats in national elections, but people do get tired of empty promises. The administration might be realizing that: On August 18th the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would stop deporting people willy-nilly and focus on undocumented immigrants with criminal records. It was five days after Perry got into the race.
Image credit: Reuters