12/05/2019

For Immediate Release: December 5, 2019
Contact: Arianna Rosales, media [at] ilrc.org

Key Legal Organizations and Advocates Urge Harris County Commissioners to Take Action to Protect Immigrant Residents

Legal advocates make local policy recommendations and debunk unfounded concerns that have led to inaction

Houston, TX - In a letter sent to Harris County officials this morning, legal experts and organizations knowledgeable about state and federal law urged Harris County Commissioners to implement local policies and practices that would protect the county’s immigrant community in the wake of Texas’s anti-immigrant state law, SB 4.

Despite pressure from the Houston Leads coalition, Harris County has been reluctant to take action, questioning the legality of the policy proposals under SB 4 and theoretical risks to federal grants. This letter from legal advocates debunks those concerns, explaining why each policy is lawful under local, state, and federal law, and does not jeopardize any federal grants. The letter also describes the potential benefits of the proposed policy recommendations, including increasing public safety and reducing the county’s exposure to liability to lawsuits. 

The policy recommendations include: 

  • Adopting a detainer review procedure that ensures the validity of every detainer request before honoring the detainer

  • Establishing a legal fund for deportation defense

  • Providing “know your rights” information and advisals to individuals detained by local law enforcement agencies

  • Providing data regarding the County’s use of local resources to provide assistance to federal immigration authorities, such as U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Harris County is home to more than 1.2 million immigrants who comprise approximately 25% of the county’s population. The county also has the highest number of ICE arrests in the country, and the second highest number of deportations, which leads to the separation of families and destruction of communities.

Anita Gupta, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said:

“County Commissioners cannot hide behind a veil of fear anymore; we have addressed their concerns and set out clear and immediate steps they can take to build a safer Harris County for all. These policy recommendations uplift every county resident’s constitutional rights, regardless of immigration status, and are completely lawful under state and federal law. Several other counties and cities in Texas have already implemented similar policies. It’s past time for Harris County to do the same.”

Signatories to the letter include: the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX), Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), American Immigration Lawyers Association – Texas Chapter (AILA-TX), BakerRipley, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Tahirih Justice Center, and other reputable immigration attorneys in the Houston area. The ACLU and TCRP currently serve as legal counsel to various counties and municipalities challenging the constitutionality of SB 4 in ongoing litigation before the federal court in the Western District of Texas.