June 14, 2011
Cooper Kyle Watson is our younger son. He’s, uh, well, the baby.
He’s 15, turning 16 on the Fourth of July. Last Thursday, the child said adios to his parents and went on a trip with 22 other Austin High kids (and two teachers) to Europe. He’ll be gone another three days.
I’m surprised and a little disturbed at how weird I feel about that boy being grown up enough to travel that far and not need either of us with him. It’s very strange. Makes me both sad and proud.
I remember the first time Cooper traveled to Europe. He was only around two or three. We were leading a delegation to Koblenz, Germany (one of Austin’s sister cities) when I was Mayor. Our family was separated on the flight. Preston (who was eight) was sitting next to me. Coop was sitting with Liz in another part of the plane.
It was a very full flight that included a sizable group of high school girls heading over for a tour that, I’m guessing, was a lot like the one Cooper’s on right now.
At one point, when I couldn’t sleep, I went to check on Liz and Cooper. He wasn’t with her. Of course, I astutely noticed this and immediately asked what she’d done with our little boy. She casually pointed up a few rows and said, “He’s up there with those girls, watching the movie.”
Sure enough, there he was in the large middle section of the airplane, about three seats in from the aisle, sitting on the lap of a 15 or 16-year-old girl, and there were 15 or 16-year-old girls on both sides of him. There was Cooper, surrounded by girls, looking up at the movie screen, content as he could be. A sweet little boy, totally happy.
Cooper Watson on the Senate Floor, April 14th, 2011
Speaking of foreign countries and anxiety …
For a second, imagine panic.
Panic can look like any number of things. It’s someone sitting frozen. Or running mindlessly. Or just yelling at others for no good reason.
What’s not happening, though, is thought. There’s no listening. Alternatives and consequences aren’t considered. In a panicked state, little, if anything, is accomplished. And if there are any good results, it’s because of luck – not because of the panic.
That’s the thing about panic: you can’t judge it by what it accomplishes. You can only look at what good it prevents.
Planning to panic
Well, panic is now on the program for this special legislative session. Last week, the governor put anti-immigrant legislation – referred to as the “sanctuary cities” bill – on the legislature’s ongoing agenda.
And yesterday, the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 9 – a panicky response to a legitimate and plaintive concern about immigration in this state.
Many Texans have asked the state to do something – anything – about immigration, even as it’s a federal problem and federal responsibility. Unfortunately, the feds have fallen down on the job when it comes to immigration – a fact that’s even more disheartening given that President Obama, like President Bush before him, recognizes that federal action is needed.
So the legislature, goaded by a Texas Governor who’s less and less concerned with governing Texas, has responded with this mad rush to look like it’s doing something.
Which brings us to SB 9, which contains immigration-related provisions that have been widely criticized by police chiefs, sheriffs and others whose job it is to keep folks safe – including cops themselves. To see just how opposed some are, check out this letter
that four chiefs wrote about the bill last week.
In troublingly simplistic language, the bill prohibits cities and counties from preventing their employees from doing pretty much whatever they want as long as those employees are:
- asking about someone’s immigration status;
- sending other folks’ personal information to pretty much any governmental agency;
- or teaming up with a federal employee – with or without the approval of their bosses in Texas.
The thing is, this language applies to ANYONE who works for local or state governments.
So be careful about getting into arguments with the folks who renew your drivers’ licenses, listen to the problems with your water bill, or review the permit to renovate your house.
And be really, REALLY careful if you look black, Hispanic, Asian, or otherwise “different.” Because cities and counties will really have their hands tied when it comes to making policies to keep folks they’re employing from detaining with or without just cause. In fact, if you’re unlucky enough to have left your driver’s license or passport in another pocket or purse, there’s nothing but toothless anti-profiling language protecting you from being taken in for possibly violating federal immigration laws.
This is perhaps the biggest tragedy of this bill – it actively discourages Texans from seeking out and cooperating with police officers. That’s why these provisions have been so decisively opposed by so many law enforcement officials.
This destroys Texas’ heritage, culture and history of valuing immigrants and the contributions they make to the state, leaving a climate of fear in its wake.
There’s a better way
A more thoughtful approach would be to pass legislation that would actually address the public safety needs and economic realities facing Texans.
Last week, I filed Senate Bill 40, which would create a state-run Essential Workers Program, ensuring that the workers we need get criminal background checks, are tracked for public safety purposes, and are actually contributing to the state’s tax base.
This bill has had strong support from business groups, because it cuts through the divisive politics surrounding the immigration issue and offers a practical, common-sense, limited solution. Legally, the federal government will need to be on-board with a program like this, and the bill acknowledges that.
But at least this offers a detailed approach that will take the conversation a lot further than the rhetoric and do-nothing ideas that are being tossed around.
The wrong way
SB 9, by contrast, reflects little thought and less deliberation about the true problem Texas faces.
The legislature needs to listen to the police chiefs, CEOs, domestic violence experts, religious and community leaders and so many others who understand the true threats and opportunities when it comes to immigration in a large southern state such as Texas.
Even worse, it doesn’t solve an actual, documented problem facing this state. Because for all the empty rhetoric about the evils of sanctuary cities, those pushing this legislation have struggled mightily to define what a sanctuary city is or to declare whether Texas even has one.
Instead, the bill’s simplistic language to this complicated problem is packed with obvious potential unintended consequences. And it will create a burden on law enforcement officers, property taxpayers and Texans simply going about their lives.
This is a policy of panic. And here’s my advice: