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Pandering to the Base on Immigration Could Inflict Long-term Damage on Texas GOP

All campaigns have their share of heated rhetoric, but as a proud Texas Republican, I’m worried about the long term repercussions of the tone of some of the campaigns I’m observing in my home state, especially when it comes to the GOP’s ability to attract more Latinos like me to our tent.

In the battle for the office of lieutenant governor, the issue of illegal immigration looms large. In Texas, the lieutenant governor is a powerful post, serving as president of the state Senate. When it comes to power and influence, this is no consolation prize.

The Republican challenger to incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is state Sen. Dan Patrick, who has made illegal immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. Patrick has used the term “illegal invasion” on the campaign trail to describe undocumented immigration from Mexico across the Rio Grande.

The hostility to illegal immigration might play well in primary audiences, but Patrick is wrong on the facts.

There were approximately 420,000 apprehensions nationwide in 2013 related to illegal entry. That’s a big number, but it is small in comparison to what it was seven or eight years ago when it was over 1 million.

And Mexico is not the problem. The Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector is the highest trafficked area for illegal border entries. But the majority of apprehensions there are not from Mexico, they are from Central and South America.

Patrick also continues to sow fear in the primary electorate with the idea of hordes of Mexicans streaming into Texas to take our jobs. He fails to mention that visa overstays are the biggest contributor to illegal immigration. Without a system that can reconcile international arrivals with departures at our land border, overstays will continue to be a challenge, as individuals turn their entry visas into one-way tickets to the American dream.

The sound bites that Patrick is flogging portray Texas not as the open, welcoming, trade-oriented state we all know, but as one that is antagonistic to our southern neighbor and largest trading partner.

What Mexico is to Texas and the rest of the country is nearly $1 million per minute in international trade through our commercial ports. One in four jobs in the United States are attributed to trade, and for 21 states in addition to Texas, Mexico is the number 1 trading partner. Over a half million Texas jobs depend on exports and the Lone Star state sends over $94 billion in exports to Mexico.

Patrick views our border as a liability, but for so many Texans it’s a land of opportunity. Patrick’s campaign is seemingly premised on not just opposing Dewhurst, but on consciously ignoring a critical spoke in the wheel of our economic success.

I’m no Karl Rove, but I do know that jobs and the economy are always on the minds of voters. In last month’s Gallup poll, respondents cited unemployment and jobs as their top issue. Immigration registered a paltry 4 percent, and it’s an issue that has lost steam since this same time last year. Harping on illegal immigration is no way to grow a party or lay the foundation for a long political career.

Democrats know that Republican candidates like Patrick are doing their party no favors. They’re stocking their bench for the long game, preparing to tap into Texas’ growing Latino voter-age population and introducing themselves to recent Democrat arrivals from other states.

If Texas Republicans think that using the same electoral playbook year after year will always lead to wins, they could be in for a rude awakening in just a few election cycles.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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