Rusk County became the first county in East Texas to pass a resolution opposing housing illegal immigrants.
The county’s commissioners court unanimously approved a half-page resolution requesting no illegal immigrants and unaccompanied minors be transferred to non-federal facilities in the county unless approved by the appropriate city or commissioner’s court. It also requests federal reimbursement of funds to local governments for housing or caring for illegal immigrants.
County officials said the resolution is not legally binding, but rather is intended to be an official stand on the issue to state and federal leaders. If federal mandates were handed down, the county would be required to comply.
Smith County commissioners voted down two similar resolutions in late June.
Henderson resident Johnny Weaver said he wasn’t sure “what paper the illegal immigrants would read” to get the message.
“We all like to be first in many things, but the question is: Is this something we want to be first in?” Weaver told the court before the vote. “We are talking about children, mainly.”
Weaver also said county officials did not need to be reminded to protect and serve the public because they would be removed from office if they didn’t.
“We have elected officials and professionals whose job it is to protect the safety, security and health (of Rusk County residents),” he said. “Some of them are with us today, and I hope we are not saying they are not doing their job.”
Kilgore resident Lorie Cox and Rusk County resident Jim Gray spoke in favor of the resolution before the vote.
Ms. Cox said by passing the resolution, the court was sending a message to the residents that the court intends to protect them and a message to the immigrants that they are not welcome. The message also would apply to the government to place them elsewhere, she said.
“What is needed to protect our families is courage from our public servants,” she said. “Courage to make hard choices and the humanity and desire to understand the complex issues which you may never have thought were in the job description of the office you ran for.”
Gray said indigent health care costs could increase if immigrants were housed in the county.
“Any illegal (immigrant) can go to any public hospital in the (country) and be taken care for free,” he said.
Gray also shared concerns of diseases being carried into the country.
“I’m very proud of my commissioners court in Rusk County,” he said. “You fellas are going to be leading that way, and I want you to know how patriotic you are and how important this is.”