By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry was met by noisy protesters outside and a lukewarm welcome inside a hotel where he made on Thursday his first major address to a Hispanic group since he said last month that he is thinking of running for president.
"You are in the job creation capital of the world," the Republican governor told local, state, and federal elected officials gathered in San Antonio for a National Association of Latino Elected Officials meeting.
Speaking before Perry, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro denounced a bill being considered in the special session of the Texas Legislature that would ban cities from providing "sanctuary" to illegal immigrants. Castro did not mention Perry by name, but the governor earlier this year declared the measure an emergency legislative priority.
The measure would deny state funding to any city that does not cooperate with federal immigration officials. It would prohibit local governments from banning law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of people who are lawfully detained or arrested.
"We're letting him know how upset we are that he introduced this bill," said Claudia Sanchez, one of the protesters who lined the sidewalk in front of the hotel where Perry was speaking. They chanted slogans denouncing Perry and the sanctuary cities bill such as: "We are against all anti-immigrant bills."
Many Hispanic activists said the bill to eliminate sanctuary cities would lead to racial profiling, and some Texas police chiefs said it would keep crime victims and witnesses from cooperating with police. Perry said it would make the state's cities safer.
Perry did not discuss the legislation in his speech, instead touting the Texas economic record, and pointing out the number of Hispanics he has appointed to state office during his more than 10 years as governor.
"It's all about keeping taxes low," Perry told the group.
The association's delegates welcomed Perry with just tepid applause, and interrupted his speech for applause only once, when he talked about how proud he is to have appointed Esperanza "Hope" Andrade to be the "first Latina" Secretary of State.
He also talked of appointing the "first Latina" state Supreme Court justice, and the first Hispanic woman to sit on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court.
"One-third of our citizens identify themselves as Hispanics," Perry said. "It is our diverse thought and heritage that helps make this state strong."
A report released by the association shows that the 2012 presidential candidates will have to court the votes of 12.2 million Hispanic voters, 26 percent more than voted in the last presidential election.
"Hispanic enrollment in Texas institutions of higher education is up 88 percent in the last decade," Perry said. "The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in this state is up 40 percent."
But his message did not play well with many in the crowd.
"I don't agree with the majority of things he is doing in Texas," said Louis Ruiz, a Democratic state representative from Kansas. "I think his policies will eliminate opportunity for Hispanic young people."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)