Immigration Reform: Cornyn's Current Take

Texas' junior U.S. senator wasn't shying away from the issue at last Tuesday's Rotary Club of Austin meeting

John Cornyn
John Cornyn (Photo by Jana Birchum)

John Cornyn doesn't yet know who his Democratic opponent will be, but Texas' junior U.S. senator knows that immigration reform is a land-mine issue that can't be avoided. And he's not shying away from it – he addressed what he called "the single most significant domestic issue facing our country today" head-on at last Tuesday's meeting of the Rotary Club of Austin.

"I have never seen an issue that the people got more engaged," Cornyn said. "A lot of you wrote, e-mailed, faxed, phone-called, showed up at gatherings like this, and asked the tough questions, as you should, about what in the world the United States Congress is doing when it comes to immigration reform.

"My biggest concern and, of course, the concern that I think ultimately brought that immigration bill down was a concern with, 'Will it work?' Will it perform as advertised, or is it another example of the federal government overpromising and underdelivering, reminiscent of 1986, the last time we had a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, where President Reagan signed an amnesty for 3 million people, premised upon the promise that we would actually begin to enforce our immigration laws thereafter? And of course, you remember what we got: We got an amnesty, and we got no enforcement."

Cornyn continued to tie illegal immigration to terrorism. "What made the immigration issue so important at this point in our nation's history is the security aspect. In a post-9/11 world, we have to know who's coming into our country and why they're here. We can't assume any longer that people are coming just because they want a better life and they want a job. I'm sure that describes the vast majority of the people, but we know the same broken borders that can allow those economic migrants to come into our country, basically at their will, are also available for common criminals, drug dealers, and yes, in a post-9/11 world, even potential terrorists."

He also continued to voice support for the much-reviled idea of a border wall, especially in urban areas. The issue is red meat for the Republican base but poses a big threat to GOP gains among Latinos in recent years. Earlier this month, Massey Villarreal, a Hous­ton businessman and one of America's most prominent Hispanic Republicans, told the Rio Grande Guardian that he was abandoning Cornyn for challenger Rick Noriega, a Demo­crat­ic state representative from Houston. While Noriega is ostensibly still in the "exploratory" stages of his candidacy, it is widely expected he will face San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts in next spring's primary.

"I have decided to support Rick Noriega for U.S. Senate as a Democrat. I just don't think John Cornyn hears my community," Villarreal told the Guardian. "I know he supports some issues that affect my community, but immigration reform is one of the defining positions in my community. I have got to support what is good for my community. At the end of the day, regardless of party, we have to come home to our community, where we grew up in the grassroots."

Villarreal later told the Houston Chronicle, "I've been trying to put my finger in the dam of Hispanics leaving the Republican Party, and I can't any more. I've run out of fingers."

After the Rotary speech, Cornyn told reporters, "About a third of my constituents are Hispanic, and of course, I'm in regular communication with people in the Hispanic community. I can't really comment on what an individual, who is a Republican but claims to be supporting a Democrat, why [he] would make that choice; that's up to him. But I have talked to a number of other Hispanic Republicans, and we're in regular communication about issues that they're concerned about, including the immigration issues, and I've told [them] that I am committed to finding a solution to the problem."

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John Cornyn, Rick Noriega, Mikal Watts, immigration, U.S. Senate

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