This week, Gov. Greg Abbott retweeted what appears to be a fake Twitter user railing against tax dollars “paying for illegals to be educated.” A month earlier and a day before a racist terrorist attack in El Paso, he sent out an anti-immigrant fundraising letter asking supporters to “take matters into our own hands” and “defend” Texas.
Abbott’s actions quickly garnered a response from the Texas House Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, who called out Abbott for demonizing Latinos and the immigrant community since day one of his governorship.
For state Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who has led the caucus since 2016, it’s just another day of elected service in the Trump era. “It is incredibly exhausting, both emotionally and mentally,” Anchía said in an interview. “You feel as if the attacks are nonstop and you almost never get a chance to take a break from them.”
At the same time, Anchía said the attacks on Latinos– from detention camps at the border to the anti-immigrant laws passed by the state– are galvanizing and bring out the best in the caucus of 41 lawmakers he leads with MALC. He recalled a conversation with Nina Perales, the Vice President of Litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who at the time, was fighting against Texas’ discriminatory and gerrymandered districts lines in federal court.
“I said, man, Nina, you know, this feels like a never-ending battle,” Anichia said. “She said, would you rather be the Hispanic caucus chair in California? You and I are here for a reason.”
Anchía, who has served in the House since 2005, made his way to Texas after receiving a scholarship to attend Southern Methodist University. He originally grew up in Miami in a new immigrant neighborhood where he met Latinos from across the South American, Caribbean and Central American diaspora. He said he was eternally grateful to his teachers in the public school system, especially his government teacher who encouraged him to join a program that shuttled students to a local courthouse to view trials as they were happening. “That got me jazzed up to be a lawyer,” said Anchía, who pursued a law degree from Tulane University Law School in New Orleans after graduating from SMU.
His first experience with politics came in 2001 when he was elected as a trustee to Dallas Independent School District. From there, Anchía ran for the Texas House where he has served since. In his almost 20 years in elected office, Anichia said he’s watched the state evolve from a conservative Republican stronghold to a purple state that is poised to elect Democrats to statewide offices. “The Republican party is going to be forced to evolve or die,” Anchía said of the 2020 elections.
When asked about rumors about a potential run for governor, Anchía said no. “I had an opportunity to run for mayor and I declined,” he explained. “I love being in the legislature and I think the legislature is going to flip … so I want to stick around for some of that and I’d love to form part of the leadership in the House if we take it back.”
Throughout his legislative career, Anchía said he’s most proud of leading the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus against Senate Bill 4, a law which passed in 2017 forcing local governments and law enforcement to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. He said he was also proud of authoring the Tim Cole Act– a law that provides compensation to Texans who have been wrongfully convicted or imprisoned– and more recently, two pipeline safety bills signed into law this year by Abbott following the death of a 12-year-old Dallas girl who died in a gas explosion.
“Anchía is the kind of person who shows up for his community and his people,” Darcy Caballero, a policy associate who has worked under Anchía at the MALC told The Signal. “The same man who’s always dressed to the nines is also ready to roll up his sleeves and do the work … Behind the scenes, Rep. Anchía always has a deep level of respect for his staff, and though he brings his own ideas, he makes sure others feel comfortable enough to pitch their own.”
Anchía said that his love for Texas and America has kept him going through the Trump era. Referencing his father’s family history, Anchía said that only America could lift up a family of sheepherders to lawyers and elected officials. “It’s going to sound trite, but I want to make sure that the infrastructure that allowed me to move from one rung of the economic ladder to another stays in place,” Anchía said. “Whether it’s good public schools or when I watched my mom graduate from night classes at community college and then go to a state school to graduate and become a public school teacher.”
“We owe it to the next generation to leave things at least as well as we found them, if not better,” Anchía said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org