Texas Immigration Debate: Two Sides Talking Past Each Other

Texas Lt. Governor candidate State Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican, engaged in a highly-publicized debate on immigration and border security with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Democrat widely believed to have national political aspirations, in a less-than-civil exhibition match of polarized views. Sen. Patrick typically presents himself as a conservative grassroots champion for border security, whereas Mayor Castro styles himself as a left-of-center advocate for illegal immigrants. With both men somewhat symbolic of the two opposing sides in the national immigration debate--at least in their own minds and those of their most ardent supporters--the debate was a microcosm of what is occurring nationally on the issue. Viewers witnessed two men holding opposing views who largely talked past each other in efforts to score political points. 

For the second time in the election cycle, Republican State Sen. Dan Patrick engaged in a debate with someone he is not running against. It seems to be a rather odd campaign tactic as Patrick has little to gain in a debate with Castro and much to lose.

The debate began with lofty goals expressed by the moderators of having a respectful public policy discussion. This, however, quickly degenerated as Castro was having no part of anything respectful.  Patrick opened with remarks about being compassionate in regards to illegal immigrants who are abused in the illegal immigration process.

“I don’t like to see the exploitation of people who are crossing this border,” Patrick explained. “It is not right for a man who is crossing this border to see his daughter or wife raped by a coyote at midnight as they cross the border. It is not right that you come to America in the back of an eighteen wheeler. It is not right, as in Houston last week, we found a hundred people living in one room with a broken bathroom.  And, it is not right that people come, children and seniors, and die in the brush and harsh terrain in South Texas.”

Castro quickly moved to attacking some of Patrick’s campaign comments saying that while San Antonio was about to celebrate San Jacinto Day, “but Texas is not being invaded by Mexico.”  Castro responded to Patrick’s opening remarks saying, “You’ve been part of the problem.” 

“It surprises me,” Castro continued, “that you’re saying you’re not tough because out there on Twitter, in front of the Alamo, in your campaign, you’ve been huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf, and now you’re dancing around, tiptoeing like Little Red Riding Hood on this issue.” 

Castro praised former Texas Governor George W. Bush for not following California’s Proposition 187 and then praised current Governor Rick Perry for not following Arizona’s SB 1070 program. Castro claimed both of these proposals hurt the economies of those states while Texas moved forward economically because of more reasonable approaches.

Much of the night’s debate surrounded the so-called “Texas Dream Act,” in-state tuition for high school graduates who were brought to Texas illegally by their parents. Castro seemed to score solid debate points on this issue.

"You have bragged that one of the first things you would do as Lt. Governor is kill the Texas DREAM Act," Castro said, "We have a lot of folks that are already here in Texas--a lot of young people who were brought to this country when they were a baby who have grown up and the only country they know is the U.S. They are Americans and they are Texans. You're going to tell these young people...that they don't have a right to pursue their education and that they can’t get in-state tuition?"

Patrick stood his ground on his desire to repeal the Texas Dream Act, but seemed to conflate the issues of who should be admitted and what rate they should be paying if they are admitted.  Patrick made it clear that his goal is not to prevent anyone from receiving an education. Rather, he argued, seats at public colleges should be reserved for citizens.

Patrick said, "We have limited resources in this state....I appreciate the fact that DREAMERS didn't come here on their own, someone brought them here. I appreciate the fact that they finished high school and want to better their lives. But if...there's one seat left at the University of Texas, and the difference is: that student, or someone who is actually a citizen of the state. If I have to choose between the two... I will stand up for the citizen of Texas...the fact is I have to put American students first."

The Texas Dream Act is not about who gets into college or not, it is about whether a student who is admitted to a college or university pays the subsidized “in-state” tuition rate, or if they pay the higher “out-of-state” tuition rate.

Patrick complained frequently of Castro interrupting him during his answers as well as Castro’s condescending tone in many of his remarks, particularly when Castro said he needed to “educate” Patrick on the contents of the U.S. Senate-passed Immigration Reform Bill. But then, Castro returned to a more statesmanlike position when he said, “Republicans and Democrats in Texas have helped the state prosper because they've always been good on tone, and have taken a reasonable approach on immigration. We have to level with Texans on this issue...It's not enough to just rail about border security. You have to address the rest of it."

Patrick responded to the issue of a pathway to citizenship by stating "If you give people who came here illegally [citizen status], what does it say to all those people waiting in line to come here legally? Republicans and Democrats need to act and pass robust reform so that illegal immigration disappears in this country...We have the responsibility to secure the border."

Castro repeatedly attacked Patrick’s campaign comments about increased cases of TB and leprosy in the United States as a result of an unsecured southern border with Mexico. Patrick responded that he was simply citing reports from health agencies.

It was unclear what either panelist thought they would gain by engaging in this debate.  Perhaps Patrick felt this was an opportunity for him to fire up his more conservative base for the upcoming run-off election with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Perhaps Castro believed this debate might elevate him in the eyes of 2016 Democrat Presidential hopefuls who might see him as an attractive vice presidential pick. One thing in the debate was very clear. Neither debater moved their opponent towards their positions.

The Quorum Report’s Scott Braddock summed it up in a message to Breitbart Texas saying the “hour-long exchange that shed nearly zero light on policy but did give both sides plenty of heat to try to exploit with various constituencies, Sen. Dan Patrick and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro talked past each other in perhaps the oddest debate we've seen since Patrick debated another elected official he wasn't running against.”

On his Facebook page, Sen. Patrick claimed victory in the debate and then said in a video statement, “I was hoping here would be a little bit more in-depth policy discussion. The Mayor tried to make it political…It wasn’t about winning and losing, it was telling voters who don’t normally support us, who we are, that we care about them, that we respect them, but that we have to follow the rule of law. We have to secure the border so that we can have legal immigration passed in Washington that will allow people to come here with dignity.”

Patrick stood firm on his positions of repealing in-state tuition, no pathway to citizenship and no driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.

The David Dewhurst campaign offered a public statement in the aftermath of the televised debate.

“The political circus rolled through San Antonio tonight and trampled an important policy issue into an unrecognizable mess,” Dewhurst Political Director Chris Bryan said. “Texans understand the importance of securing the border, but were subjected to an hour of name calling and wild tangents. Their empty exchange is further proof that Lt. Governor Dewhurst is the only candidate who has not only secured funding for law enforcement’s battle with drug cartels, but also presented a proven plan to secure the border. There were no winners in tonight’s ‘debate,’ but the clear losers were the people of Texas.”

Kristin Tate and Chad Hasty contributed to this report.

Follow Bob Price on Twitter: @BobPriceBBTX


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