05/02/2013 05:50 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2013

Texans Need Sen. Cornyn's Leadership on Immigration


While Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex) may have used "colorful" language recently to dismiss my Houston Chronicle Op-Ed, DREAMers stick by the points made, especially that Texans and the Latino community need Senator Cornyn's leadership to finally modernize our country's outdated immigration system.

Immigration is a complex legal and policy issue which mandates intimate attention and debate. Indeed, we commend the Senator's understanding for the need of such debate as he has stated, "I fully expect there will be a healthy, and I hope, respectful debate about how we should address the 11 to 12 million people here in the United States who came into the country illegally." But at the same time, our country cannot afford to lose sight of moving expeditiously and resolving the issue to ensure our economy moves forward.

While the Senator has said that the conversation " cannot [be] avoid[ed] and we must not avoid, because it impacts our national security, public safety and the health of our national local economies," his rhetoric and legislative record do not match. Nevertheless, the Senator's civil approach gives Texans hope that he will rise above the heated politics at the GOP.

On immigration, there will always be fringe voices that will attempt to obstruct the gates of the American dream. We do not have to look far in our country's history to see the nativist era mischaracterizing and assaulting new immigrants. Indeed, the Senator's Irish background illustrates the richness of the nation's immigrant identity. Cornyn is a surname from Ireland originally. During the 19th Century, Irish immigrants were stereotyped as uncivilized, unskilled and impoverished and were forced to work at the least desired occupations. Irish immigrants often found that they were not welcome in America; many ads for employment were accompanied by the order "NO IRISH NEED APPLY." Like all immigrants, we aim to earn citizenship and contribute to this nation. Indeed, like Senator Cornyn and his father before him, I hope to serve my country as a lawyer and public servant in the Armed Forces.

It is fair that Senator Cornyn is debating questions of where to stake out his territory on immigration, particularly in light of a rapidly changing demographic, which will become a more common dilemma throughout the Republican Party as both immigration reform and elections rapidly approach. But politicians like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) cannot be regarded or trusted as credible voices on immigration policy for they have made clear they will oppose any reform. Their approach is counter to the demands of a record number of Americans who support an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In the presidential race, 70 percent of Texas Latinos voted for President Obama, while 29 percent voted for Mitt Romney. In the U.S. Senate race, 65 percent of Texas Latinos voted for Paul Sadler, while 35 percent voted for Ted Cruz. In Texas' U.S. House races, 71 percent of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 29 percent voted for the Republican. Their votes helped lead Democratic U.S. House candidate Pete Gallego to defeat incumbent Francisco "Quico" Canseco (R) in Texas' closely-contested 23rd District.

Many Latinos that voted for Obama are shaking their heads and saying that politicians like Ted Cruz, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz) and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, still don't get it: SB 1070 and border walls are not the way to govern a state full of immigrants in a country of historical immigrants that is reliant upon the participation of immigrants for our economy, infrastructure and even for expanding the youth demographic in an aging nation. Although Sen. Cornyn still has time, he may very well find himself with the same harsh anti-Latino brand that may cost Arpaio and Brewer their careers.

In the end, Texans and the American people know Sen. Cornyn understands the importance of resolving the issue of immigration. But how Senator Cornyn and others address the plight of a new generation of immigrants will reflect on how effective and functional we are as nation to resolve tough issues. Whether the fringe voices, like Sen. Sessions and Sen. Cruz, will be successful in their attempt to defeat immigration will depend on whether leaders, like Senator Cornyn, stand up to them.