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Redistricting, immigration and the Texas dairy industry

Agriculture.com Staff 08/24/2006 @ 7:30am

In 2003, Texas redrew its congressional districts, as all states must do every decade.

Texas' contentious redistricting was not officially completed until this year when it was approved by the United States Supreme Court. Many Texas counties are now represented in Congress by a new representative and share that representative with counties not previously in their congressional district.

Assume for the moment that Texas dairy farmers support relatively liberal immigration laws -- that, relatively speaking, their businesses demand immigrant labor and they hope their representative helps ensure they have the labor they need. If so, redistricting has important implications for Texas dairy farmers depending on how amenable to immigration their new members are compared to their predecessors.

Erath and Hopkins counties are Texas' top dairy counties, with Erath overtaking Hopkins County between 1986 and 1992. Before redistricting, Erath County was in Texas Congressional District 17 and Hopkins County was in Congressional District 1. Democrat Charles Stenholm represented District 17 and Democrat Max Sandlin represented District 1. Following the 2003 redistricting, Erath County moved into Republican John Carter's 31st district and Hopkins County moved into Republican Ralph Hall's 4th district.

Since his election in 1980 Hall belonged to the Democratic Party but switched parties in 2004. The changes, particularly for Erath County, are significant. Texas' leading milk producer has moved to a district including the Austin suburbs of Round Rock and Georgetown -- John Carter represents interests far removed from the dairy farms surrounding Stephenville. The redistricting also separated Erath County from its former district-mate Comanche County, the state's third-largest dairy county, which moved from the 17th district to the remade11th district.

There is no easy way to analyze the implications of these changes. Immigration voting records can be riddled with inconsistencies. A representative may look draconian at one moment and in favor of open borders at another. Representatives often support tough measures to stem illegal immigration but support legal avenues for foreign workers.

Representatives may support legislation fighting against illegal immigration, but also support lax policy against illegal immigrants already in the country or oppose restrictive legislation that obstructs employers' use of immigrant labor and attempts to force employers into enforcing immigration laws. They also take different approaches to types of legal immigrants.

It is therefore extremely difficult to analyze representatives' immigration voting records, and groups that try to often provide shockingly flawed analysis. Groups tagging representatives as anti-immigrant often fail to look below the surface, or even worse may present wildly incorrect information.

Clearly, however, redistricting affects more than political parties and individual politicians. Economic interests can be seriously impacted by redistricting results. Immigration and economics go hand in hand, and any impact redistricting has on the Texas dairy industry remains to be determined.

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