Harris County will not be joining Houston and other major Texas cities and counties in a lawsuit against the state’s controversial anti-sanctuary city law.
During Tuesday morning’s County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Rodney Ellis brought up a motion to vote on joining the ongoing lawsuit against Senate Bill 4 (SB4). The bill lets law enforcement ask immigration status from people they detain and threatens jail time to elected officials that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.
However, since none of the other commissioners seconded that motion, a vote never happened.
Before that moment, there was discussion amongst the commissioners and passionate public testimony on SB4 from an undocumented immigrant and several elected officials, including Houston City Council Member Robert Gallegos, State Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) and State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).
“For us, any silence by any governmental entity is, in my view and many of us, is acceptance of SB4, plain and simple,” said Rep. Walle after his testimony, where he told commissioners he believes SB4 is unconstitutional.
“What does an American look like?” asked Sen. Garcia during her speech. “This bill cannot be implemented without racial profiling.”
One woman in the audience was even escorted out after interrupting Judge Emmett and yelling at him and commissioners to lead or be voted out of office.
Emmett told KHOU after the meeting that he is concerned with elements of SB4, including the "show me your papers" part and the belief by major police chiefs around the state that the law will or is already causing many crime victims and witnesses to avoid coming forward for fear of deportation.
However, Emmett maintains that because Harris County is part of the state, suing the state would be like suing themselves, even though four counties have joined the lawsuit.
“There are a lot of issues that have come along that people would like county commissioners court to make a statement on, but that’s just not the way to go about setting public policy,” said Emmett, who added that commissioners frequently disagree with bills that come out of Austin. “It’s been our policy over the years not to do that, so this was just a continuation of that.”
Governor Abbott signed SB4 into law in May, arguing that the law will give law enforcement another tool to keep violent criminals off the streets.
On Monday, Rep. Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth) filed a bill to repeal SB4 during the Legislature’s special session, which begins July 18.
A federal judge in San Antonio is currently deciding whether to temporarily block SB4 from going into effect in September.