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Immigrant Surge Underscores Texas Political Divide

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(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Texas Democrats say the solution for dealing with the thousands of immigrant children pouring into the country is a softer, more measured policy response, while state Republicans emphasize clamping down on the U.S.-Mexico border first and tackling everything else later.

Both sides agree a “humanitarian crisis” is unfolding in South Texas, but the differences over how to frame the approach underscores deeper fissures on the larger issue of immigration, with each party declaring its view is the key to wooing voters among the state’s booming Hispanic population. The Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate, State Sen. Wendy Davis, launched a Spanish language website and Twitter page back in March.

The U.S. Border Patrol in South Texas has been overwhelmed for months by an influx of unaccompanied children from Central America. So, what might otherwise be political rhetoric for the parties may be put to a real-world test in an important election year.

At their state convention in Dallas this weekend, Democrats approved a party platform that endorses an “attainable path to citizenship” for people living in the U.S. illegally. They say doing so will help snap the Republicans’ 20-year winning streak in statewide elections.

But just two weeks earlier, the Texas GOP removed from its party platform a plank that had passed in 2012 calling for a guest-worker program for immigrants in the country illegally and added language that prioritized securing the border — above all.

Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who was re-elected to his post at the convention, said his party doesn’t “believe in a guest-worker program. … Those kinds of programs have always led to exploitation.

“If their only crime is to be here in an undocumented status, give them an opportunity to obtain their legal status,” Hinojosa said Saturday.

Meanwhile, top conservatives led by tea party-backed state Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, say most Texans, including Hispanics, are troubled by the flood of all kinds of immigrants crossing the border illegally, and that a hard-line stance is the best way to ensure their political domination continues for another two decades.

Though neither party’s platform has little beyond a symbolic value, the issue of unaccompanied children has helped ensure that immigration questions can’t be ignored on the campaign trail.

Patrick, favored to beat Van de Putte in November, has decried an “invasion” of immigrants crossing the border illegally and adopting the slogan “Secure Our Border.” Van de Putte says it’s not that simple and that Patrick is trying to “score political points.”

Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children, most from Central America, have been apprehended entering the U.S. illegally.

“This visual image of someone sneaking through at night, trying to hide in the bushes and cross the river, that’s not occurring,” Van de Putte said. “These children, and many of the women with their infants, are crossing and asking to be detained.”

President Barack Obama will seek more than $2 billion to respond to the issue. And a Dallas County judge announced this weekend that up to 2,000 children could be transferred from overcrowded facilities in the border community of McAllen to his county by the end of July.

Guarding America’s borders is ultimately the federal government’s responsibility, but Gov. Rick Perry, Patrick and other top Republicans recently authorized spending $1.3 million per week to beef up security on the border with Mexico.

Senator Davis has urged Perry — who is not seeking re-election as governor — to convene a special legislative session to increase state funding for overtaxed border city and country officials.

Some conservative state lawmakers have clamored for a special session, too, but only to focus on securing the border.

Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday. He has generally taken a softer tone on immigration than Patrick, but nonetheless promises that, if elected, he’ll put 500 state troopers on the border and spend an additional $300 million on security.

He’s also applauded the Texas border-security surge.

“Surges like that in the past have proven to be effective,” Abbott said last week, referencing a similar effort that temporarily curbed human- and drug-trafficking in October.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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