After hearing from more than twenty community members providing testimony, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved a controversial immigration resolution on a 3-2 party-line vote Tuesday afternoon.
The approved resolution was a revised version of one proposed by Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Precinct 2) last month, and calls on national leaders to adopt comprehensive immigration reform legislation, follow federal law on detention duration limits, and to end “inhumane conditions” at detention facilities.
The County’s resolution also encourages the public to use an immigration rights hotline to report “concerns” and obtain legal services, but removed language encouraging “County departments to refer residents to the hotline to report raids.” The previous resolution had also demanded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “cease enforcement operations that separate families and destabilize communities.”
Garcia had introduced the first resolution prior to the July 9 public meeting, but Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Precinct 4) protested that neither commissioners nor the public had been given sufficient opportunity for review in accordance with Texas Open Meetings law.
Garcia re-introduced the resolution for consideration at the July 30 meeting, and stated that he had agreed to revisions in consultation with the County Attorney’s office in order to comply with state law.
“The [revised] resolution calls for national action, but no county policy changes,” Said Garcia.
According to a 2017 Texas law (SB4) prohibiting so-called “sanctuary cities,” local government may not prohibit or impede the enforcement of state and federal immigration law.
First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said the County Attorney’s office did not believe the revised resolution would violate SB4 since it did not implement any policies for law enforcement.
Some of the speakers registering opposition to the resolution, including Texans for Immigration Reduction and Enforcement President Larry Korkmas, warned that passage could jeopardize $22.7 million in grant funds to the county.
The $22.7 million cited by Korkmas comes from a July 26 memo provided by the Harris County Auditor that identifies 45 grant agreements between the county and the Department of Homeland Security. According to the memo, the agreements require the County to provide DHS with information on illegal aliens in the Sheriff’s custody and to detain such aliens in accordance with DHS requests.
The Auditor also reported that the $22.7 million in grant funds include compensation for 94 full-time county employees.
Commissioner Steve Radack (R-Precinct 3) expressed concern over the potential impact on county employees compensated through the grants.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Precinct 1) dismissed concerns about violation of state law. He added that other Texas cities have passed similar resolutions, and eventually the issue would likely be decided by the courts.
“Lawyers have opinions,” said Ellis. “This will be litigated at some point.”
In explaining his reasons for voting against the resolution, Commissioner Cagle said that while he supported some of the statements celebrating the historical contribution of immigrants, he saw no reason for the county to interfere with federal issues.
“I love the diversity of our country,” Cagle said. “The problem is…this is primarily a resolution calling for federal action. We are county officials and have not delved into federal issues before.”
Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson lambasted the new resolution, saying it “demeans and undermines the brave men and women of ICE who protect our borders, while supporting sanctuary city status that reduces public safety and overloads our schools, hospitals, and resources.”
Simpson added, “It’s time Democrats took this national security and humanitarian crisis seriously. That starts with recognizing that we are a nation of laws and the concerns of law-abiding citizens come first.”
Some of those who spoke in favor of the resolution urged the County to go further in supporting illegal residents. ACLU attorney Edgar Saldivar requested that the county establish protocols for law enforcement interaction with ICE, and provide quarterly reports on ICE detainer requests as well as details on county funds and resources expended to assist federal immigration enforcement.
In response to concerns about loss of grant funding for the county, County Judge Lina Hidalgo lamented that the court could not take stronger action.
“The state has tied our hands.”
A copy of the modified resolution and the Auditor’s memo can be found below.
Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.