Texas Tribune by Reeve Hamilton
Last session, [75-year old state Rep. Leo Berman's, R-Tyler] bills — like the one restricting illegal immigrants to certain geographical regions or another denying them access to higher education — failed to gain traction in the roughly evenly divided House. But with this session’s Republican supermajority, it could very well be the session of Leo.
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He has filed his own version of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, as well as bills mandating that employers verify employees’ legal status electronically, making English the state’s official language and eliminating birthright citizenship — an issue he hopes provokes a lawsuit he can take all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Another bill would add an 8 percent surcharge on money wired back to Latin America, which he would earmark for hospitals providing free health care to illegal immigrants — who Berman says are bringing in drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, polio, plague and leprosy.
(According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the only incident of plague in Texas in the last decade was in 2006, and it was contracted during a hunting trip in New Mexico. The most recent case of polio in Texas, contracted during an individual’s travels abroad, was in 1995.)
“We want to make things not uncomfortable, but do things in such a way that they’re going to self-deport,” Berman said.
A first-generation American, Berman knows the significance of immigration in the country’s history. His parents came through Ellis Island in the 1920s — his father from Latvia and his mother from Poland. They learned English, opened a business and flourished. “That was a long time ago,” Berman said. “Now, we have no Ellis Island. We just have a wide-open southern border where people are climbing through the fence, and they are illegal aliens.”
Berman’s stance puts him uncharacteristically at odds with members of the state’s conservative business community, like Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond, who believes immigration reform is a federal matter. “I think most of what’s being proposed is unconstitutional,” Hammond said. “The Constitution is pretty clear that immigration is a federal matter. I hold Rep. Berman in very high regard and consider him a friend, and as friends will do from time to time, we disagree in this area.”
Berman’s immigration bills, and their heightened chances of moving this session, are one factor that led state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who is as liberal as Berman is conservative, to call this “the most racist session of the Texas Legislature in a quarter of a century.” Not since the mid-20th century, Burnam said, has the state seen so much legislation focused at subjugating a community of color. “All of this legislation is really directed that way,” he said. “Everybody knows it. They can pretend like it’s not, but it is.”
See also, Texas Tribune article by Ross Ramsey about immigration and the growing Texas hispanic population.