County commissioners rejected two resolutions regarding Smith County’s intent to assist any state or federal efforts to shelter an overwhelming number of illegal immigrants, most of them children, crossing into Texas.
The “Resolution To Protect the Health, Safety and Security of the Residents of Smith County” was presented to the court two weeks ago by resident Bob Brewer, a Grassroots America — We the People member. The resolution is similar to those approved by the League City Council and at least three county commissioners courts in the past few weeks.
Resolutions are not legally binding and are typically symbolic reflections of court members’ stances on broad policy matters and acknowledgments of personal achievement for constituents.
Commissioner Terry Phillips placed the resolution for consideration and had worked with commissioners and the county attorney into the morning to address language in the original document.
Tyler City Councilman Darryl Bowdre addressed the court opposing approval of any resolution he said went against principles of a compassionate nation and words found on the Statue of Liberty, the iconic symbolic gateway for generations of immigrants.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“I’d hate to see any resolution cast a poor light on Smith County and this community, especially when it comes to the lives of children,” he said. “This is a federal and state problem.”
County Judge Joel Baker agreed it was a federal and state problem and said the resolution gives the county no ability to legally refuse cooperation if called upon by the state or federal government.
Baker said the original document stated all county departments and elected officials would “refuse requests or directives” by federal or state authorities to house or detain illegal immigrants, which is not possible.
Phillips presented a version, which laid the blame for the border crisis on President Barack Obama and the federal government. It said the federal government is incentivizing the flow of illegal immigrants by its lack of response and assistance along the border.
The resolution stated the influx would create an overwhelming financial burden for the county and poses health and safety risks to Smith County residents.
It fell short of refusing assistance but stated “housing of illegal alien minors in Smith County, Texas is not in the best interest of the public” and therefore “in order to protect the citizens of Smith County hereby demonstrates its intent to refuse requests or directives by federal agencies to permit or establish any county facility for the purpose of housing or detaining any individuals who have entered the country illegally.”
Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said the original document teemed with racism and xenophobia that did not reflect the nation’s spirit. She said the resolution represented little more than political rhetoric and open hostility toward desperate, foreign masses.
“I cannot sign off on a resolution that goes against the basis of my Christian faith and that is based on prejudice and generalizations toward children,” she said.
She compared the resolution’s tenor to that of protestors shouting at black students entering predominantly white schools during desegregation.
Mrs. Hampton agreed the federal government needed to intervene but that it was not within county authority. She suggested individuals contact their state and federal representatives and senators to press for action.
Baker presented another version of the resolution, which directed state and federal legislators and residents to pressure Washington, D.C., to address the problem swiftly and to enforce all immigration laws as specified by the U.S. Constitution.
Baker’s resolution recognized the important economic and cultural contributions of legal immigrants but that illegal immigration discredits and undermines the process.
It also stated Smith County commissioners find any attempt to establish facilities for the purpose of “processing, housing or detaining illegal immigrants is not in the best interest of the public.”
Votes were 3-2 against both resolutions. Phillips and Commissioner Cary Nix supported Phillips’ version, with Baker and Commissioners JoAnn Hampton and Jeff Warr voting against. Warr supported Baker’s resolution with Phillips, Nix and Hampton voting against.
Phillips said he disagreed with Mrs. Hampton’s assertion the resolution was racially motivated or “non-Christian.” He said the situation is a direct result of Obama’s unwillingness to address illegal crossings and enforce federal immigration laws.
“The compassionate thing is to send them back to their families rather than warehouse them,” he said. “We aren’t against immigration; it just needs to be done legally.”
Nix said the nation was built on the rule of law and that inaction by the federal government undermines national sovereignty. He asked how the federal government could question the legality of refusing cooperation while it failed to enforce immigration laws, secure the border and protect American citizens from the financial burden, disease and criminal element associated with the mass crossings.
George Roberts, chief executive officer at Northeast Texas Public Health District, said there were legitimate concerns regarding the health risks, but that they have little to do with immigration. Roberts said the district and the state are monitoring the situation and most problems have been associated with mass sheltering situations.
Central American countries have vaccination numbers on par with the U.S., he said.
“There is a risk anytime you have a number of people housed in a mass,” he said.
Baker said he is concerned the brunt of the state and federal action, along with the costs, could be pushed down to local authorities. But a symbolic resolution would do little to address those concerns and instead detract from the court’s credibility.
“You lose credibility when you take action you can’t take,” he said.
Baker said no federal or state agency had contacted Smith County regarding possible facility sites for relocation of illegal immigrants.