Leaders look to coalition building for immigration reform


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on February 13, 2013 at 11:18 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 14 at 12:12 AM

AUSTIN -- Austin's First Baptist Church may not be the first place many think of when it comes to the debate over immigration, but Suzii Paynter says it makes perfect sense.

"The scripture is full of migration, everything from the Exodus to Jesus and his own family having to flee to Egypt," said Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. "So  Biblically, we're looking at the scriptures that have to do with migration. Secondly, we're also looking at the way in which the faith community helps to bring together many voices."
Paynter joined businesses, law enforcement and political leaders Wednesday. The conservative forum's agenda included addressing the massive backlog of legal immigration cases, encouraging family-conscious immigration solutions, and pushing forward guest worker legislation endorsed by a growing number of Texas Republicans. 
"We want to make sure that we're offering the capability for individuals to transition into the American society and come out of the shadows," said George Antuna with Hispanic Republicans of Texas.
"I think the atmosphere, the mood of the body is right," state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) told media at a conference Tuesday morning to unveil HR 44, a resolution aimed to identify middle ground between Democrats and Republicans in urging Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.
"I was undocumented as a young child. I was born in Mexico, and my family brought me to the U.S. as a baby," said state Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna (D-Houston).
After her family overstayed their visa, they became citizens after the last major immigration reform passed in 1986.
Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2005, Hernandez Luna says the DREAM Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children remains a key priority for Democrats. 
"We have young college students, young college graduates who have so much talent that can be a benefit for our country. It can expand our tax revenue, higher wages, and so that's very important to me," said Luna. "Innovation, lots of new businesses are started by immigrants, and I think they have a lot to contribute to this country and would be able to do more if they have legal status." 
Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree on many of the details, in particular concerning border security, but there are signs the wide divide over immigration policy may be shrinking.
With the discussions among politically different camps raising similar concerns, a resolution could lie somewhere between the Texas House and the house of God. 
"I guess you could say that's the Promised Land," said Paynter.