BELTON — The Bell County Commissioners Court waded into the ongoing immigration debate by unanimously passing a resolution addressing “border security and the influx of illegal immigrants” at its Monday morning meeting.
“Our position is not one of uncaring,” County Judge Jon Burrows said before the vote. He added that the county’s position is that housing undocumented immigrants is “not in Bell County’s best interests for a number of reasons.”
One of the reasons Burrows cited was Bell County’s existing relationship with Brazoria County, a coastal county south of Houston that is frequently battered by hurricanes.
During previous hurricane evacuations, Bell County served as a refuge for thousands of Brazoria County’s evacuees, Burrows said.
Unlike other border security and immigration resolutions that were recently introduced throughout the state, the text of Bell County’s resolution does not instruct law enforcement agencies to engage in any activities, and it does not instruct county officials or employees to withhold any resources from the federal government.
“We’re not stopping anyone from doing anything,” Burrows said. “We’re encouraging legislators to secure the border.”
Burrows added that county commissioners “don’t have any authority over immigration policy.”
The passage of the resolution was met with elation by members of the Central Texas Tea Party who presented a similar motion to the commissioners July 17.
“I think it’s great that they passed it,” said John Coleman, president of the Central Texas Tea Party. “We were fixing to introduce it again today.”
Coleman said his group is planning to introduce similar resolutions to city councils and commissioners courts throughout the area.
“We’re going to take it to every town that hasn’t adopted one yet,” Coleman said.
Despite local support for the measure, there might be unforeseen legal complications.
On July 21, Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based nonprofit organization with a mission to promote social and economic justice, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development challenging a resolution passed by the League City council on July 8.
Bell County’s resolution is similar to the one passed by League City, a Houston suburb of about 89,000 people, as well as resolutions passed by other cities and counties throughout the state.
“Unfortunately these are passing pretty fast and it’s depressing to see communities take these actions,” said Maddie Sloan, Texas Appleseed’s disaster recovery and fair housing project director.
Resolutions prohibiting or rejecting refuge for unaccompanied migrant children have been introduced in counties throughout Texas.
Texas Appleseed’s 22-page complaint alleges that League City’s resolution and others like it violate key provisions of the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“On their face, these resolutions are discriminatory,” Sloan said.
“And communities can’t take federal tax dollars and discriminate.”
Burrows said he hadn’t reviewed the complaint filed against League City before bringing Bell County’s resolution up for a vote, nor had he asked County Attorney Jim Nichols to review the text of the proposed resolution before presenting it to the commissioners.
“I found some text that had been passed by other counties around the country on the county judges’ list serve,” Burrows said. He added that he didn’t think the Fair Housing Act violations were a concern for Bell County.
“We don’t have any housing,” Burrows said.
Marisa Bono, a staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that even if the housing act violations don’t apply to Bell County, the Civil Rights Act violations do.
“Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits governmental entities that receive federal funds from using them to discriminate,” Bono said.
Both Sloan and Bono said that it is not the place of local governmental entities to make immigration law.
“The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that immigration law is solely the purview of the federal government,” Sloan said.
Bono added that the decision was to prevent “a patchwork of immigration legislation.”
One of the main problems that local governmental entities run into when they do attempt to pass resolutions designed to address immigration issues is that the resolutions passed are “often pretty vague and overly broad,” Sloan said.
“It’s unclear if these resolutions apply to foster families who take in children or service providers housing them while they apply for asylum,” Sloan said. “Our constitutional and civil rights protect persons not citizens; and that interpretation goes back to the founding fathers.”