New Baker Institute papers tackle immigration reform issues

United States immigration experts gathered at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy April 9 for a conference on “Immigration Reform: A System for the 21st Century.” Panels addressed solutions to crucial questions surrounding immigration reform, including “Immigration and the Face of America,” “Security, the Economy and Immigration,” “Dealing with Immigration at the Local Level” and “Moving Forward on Immigration.”

Presenters included Mark Jones, professor and chair of political science and a fellow at the Baker Institute; Tony Payan, scholar in immigration studies at the Baker Institute; and Erika de la Garza, program director of the Latin America Initiative at the Baker Institute. All three discussed new research they had drafted in conjunction with the conference.

The highlights:

Jones’ paper, “Immigration Policy and Partisan Politics in the State Legislatures: 2010-2012,” surveyed state legislatures that passed restrictive legislation designed to address the presence of undocumented immigrants within their borders. The paper was co-authored by Baker Institute research assistant Benjamin Chou. The authors utilized roll-call vote data to examine the partisan, ethnic/racial and regional dynamics surrounding debates over restrictive omnibus immigration legislation.

Jones and Chou highlighted the extremely partisan nature of the votes on such legislation, with virtually all Republicans supporting the omnibus bills and an overwhelming majority of Democrats opposing them. “While there is little intraparty variance in Republican support, among Democrats, rural Anglo legislators were significantly more likely than their colleagues to break with the party majority and side with the GOP legislators in support of restrictive immigration reform legislation,” the authors wrote.

Payan’s paper, “The Immigration Debate in Texas: The Counterintuitive Case for Moderation,” studied the state of Texas’ response to undocumented immigration in comparison with other local governments nationwide and in the face of federal inaction. Considering a number of variables, including demographics, political leadership, economic forces and historical variables, Payan found that like other state governments, “Texas produced its own response to undocumented migration, and many counties and cities in the state joined in the heated debates of the previous decade with their own ordinances. The final landscape was quite uneven, with some initiatives being quite generous while others were quite harsh. Even so, Texas’ response could be considered moderate when compared with other states.”

Payan explored Texas state and local initiatives to explain why the overall environment in the state remained moderate while other states responded so harshly to the presence of undocumented workers.

De la Garza’s presentation on a forthcoming paper, “U.S. Newspapers and the Immigration Debate,” provided a snapshot of immigration coverage by 10 leading U.S. newspapers during the election year of 2012 to explore the media’s behavior and influence. It was co-authored by Patricia Gras, president of Gras Productions, and Baker Institute research associate Arianna Hatchett. The authors found similar tendencies described in a 2009 Brookings Institute study on the topic, including episodic coverage of immigration issues and an emphasis on immigrants and governments as the main actors. In contrast, their findings showed a shift in framing away from illegal acts by immigrants or government efforts to contain them to a framing and focus on human elements.

To view all papers (full text) and presentations given as well as event and speaker information, visit For more information about the Latin American Initiative, see

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.