A coalition of Texas tea party activists struck at Gov. Rick Perry on his home turf Thursday, demanding that he revive proposals to crack down on illegal immigration that stalled in the state Legislature.
Hailing from a smattering of grass-roots organizations, the activists held a news conference inside the state Capitol urging Perry to sign an executive order or call a special legislative session to ensure adoption of measures giving police broader powers to ask people they detain about their citizenship. It's a sensitive issue since Perry, who is vying for the Republican presidential nomination, has been branded by some conservatives as soft on immigration.
The group pointed to other states like Alabama and Arizona -- which have used state measures to get tougher on illegal immigration -- and asked why Texas can't do the same, instead of relying on federal enforcement.
"Governor Perry's decided, apparently, that he just needs to keep pointing the finger at Washington D.C., which absolves him of any responsibility," said JoAnn Fleming, chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee of the Texas Legislature.
Perry supports expanding police power as a means of detecting illegal immigrants, and made the issue a priority at the start of the legislative session in January -- seemingly fast-tracking its passage. Republicans hold a supermajority in the House, which passed the measure during the regular session, and a majority in the Senate, which approved another version of it during a special session in June.
The measures were fiercely opposed by Democrats, and neither made it through both houses in the same session to become law. Now the Legislature is not scheduled to meet again until January 2013.
Thursday's activists had held a similar news conference in September and made virtually the same demands. "We do not intend to go away," Fleming said this time.
She said 16 Republican senators have now promised to vote in favor of the measure should it be revived -- enough to pass the 31-seat chamber. She said Republicans in the House could then easily pass the bill, if Perry convenes a second special session.
"Because we have House support and the votes we need in the Senate, the governor has no excuse," Fleming said.
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said the governor supports legislation that would outlaw "sanctuary cities," where illegal immigrants know they can live and not have to face questions about their immigration status from police. But she also said there are no plans to call another special session.
"Gov. Perry trusts local law enforcement to use their training and judgment to inquire about immigration status during a lawful detention or arrest in Texas," she said.
Fleming has complained that the governor and key legislative leaders have been dismissive of their cause, telling activists to simply contact their local lawmakers.
Perry has slid in national polling while publicly defending his approval of in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants who attended high school in Texas. In Indianapolis on Wednesday, he talked tough on immigration, saying a failed, Iranian-backed terror plot coordinated in Mexico proves the U.S. must secure its southern border.
The tea party activists also mentioned the foiled plot, but claimed it showed how insecure Texas' border with Mexico is.
Those in favor of police quizzing detainees about their citizenship say it will help police fight crime committed by illegal immigrants. Opponents, including law enforcement chiefs in Texas' largest cities, say it will allow rogue officers to target Hispanics.
Roberto Gonzalez, a Cuban-American and chairman of the Clear Lake Tea Party, near Houston, countered that, "this is not an anti-Hispanic mission. This is a rule of law issue."
The activists suggested that police groups who oppose the crackdown are largely law enforcement unions who don't want to burden their membership with extra responsibilities.
"This just means they have to do their jobs," said Katrina Pierson, of the Dallas tea party.