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14 Apr 2015

Texas’ Latino Disconnect

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By: Max Moll

On Thursday of last week, Governor Greg Abbott brought a message of prosperity and success to a sold out room of Houston Latino leaders, officials, and business owners.

The only problem – the message was more about Texas than it was about Latinos in Texas.

Sure, Governor Abbott touched on the vital role Latinos play in Texas’ thriving economy. He talked about the Houston Hispanic Chamber’s powerful role in the advancement of Latinos not only in Houston, but across the state of Texas, as well. He touched on his wife’s story as being part of a family that emigrated from Monterrey, Mexico. He also made sure to annunciate words with a distinctively Latino twinge.

But Governor Abbott’s message didn’t connect with what was going on in Austin.

As the Governor praised the Latino community’s inherent tenacity and commitment to hard work, the tenor of our legislators at the State Capitol couldn’t be any further from that praise. As Abbott praised Dr. Laura Murillo – the Hispanic Chamber’s visionary leader – our representatives in the legislature were busy pushing legislation that stands in the face of what the Hispanic Chamber and the Latino community are striving to build. While Abbott emphasized the Latino influence on Texas and his life, the Legislature was working to ensure that Latinos play a lesser role in Texas’ future than they have in its past.

While Governor Abbott said a lot in his speech, it’s what he didn’t say that said the most. Governor Greg Abbott’s comments to the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce noticeably – and almost painfully – omitted addressing the topics that most impact the Latino community. Why? Because the handling of those issues by the Texas legislature under his short tenure would not play well in a room full of Latinos.

On Wednesday, Senator Charles Perry’s “sanctuary cities” bill passed through the Senate’s Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee. If passed, Senate Bill 185 will cut off state funding for governmental entities that forbid law enforcement from inquiring about the immigration status of those they detain or arrest. In other words, if you are pulled over for speeding and have a slight pigmentation to your skin, the officer has the right to ask for your documentation.

On another front, the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee also passed Senator Donna Campbell’s Senate Bill 1819. This piece of legislation would undo a measure passed in 2001 by Gov. Rick Perry that allows some children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition.

While legislators have claimed that these pieces of legislation aren’t “about vilifying anyone,” and are matters of necessity for law enforcement officers’ effectiveness, the dialogue around the bills sure feels different. And while Governor Greg Abbott’s praise of the Latino community in broad terms may be genuine, the legislature’s actions seem to stand in stark contrast of that praise.

Objectively, Governor Abbott’s presence at one of the country’s most influential Hispanic Chambers’ premier events seemed a bit odd. Following a week at the Texas legislature that featured a day tagged as “anti-Latino Day” by Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Emmanuel Garcia, the Governor may have been better off finding a “scheduling conflict” that kept him in Austin and off the dais in a room full of Latino leaders.

I was in the audience last Thursday and couldn’t help but chuckle every time the Governor used the word “dream” in his remarks. As he talked about the American Dream and the dreams of Texas, he remained seemingly unaware that the word “dream” has an entirely different context to a room full of Latinos.

In a microcosm of the day and its dynamics: Governor Greg Abbott spoke on the dreams of Texas and its citizens while the Texas legislature looked to strip DREAMers and Latinos of their own.

And that’s where the disconnect lies.