Holly Hansen, The Texan, November 11, 2020
In a 3 to 2 party-line vote, the Harris County Commissioners Court has approved spending more than $2 million over the next two years to provide legal services for illegal immigrants residing in the county.
Last February, County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) had initiated her plan to provide the services, but at that time said the cost for the first year would be approximately $500,000. This week’s vote serves to officially implement the Immigrant Legal Services Fund (ILSF) and allocates $2,050,000 to cover costs for the next two years.
The ILSF will consist of a county-wide program to assist with the provision of legal representation for indigent immigrant adults, children, or families in detention or facing the threat of deportation who are residents of Harris County.
In addition, the county is creating a new full-time assistant director of immigration, who will develop and implement plans to “ensure that the county better serves the needs of our immigrant residents.”
Founded in 2017, the SAFE Network consists of 18 cities and counties designating taxpayer funds for a collaborative effort with immigration legal service providers to craft a public defender system for all immigrants facing deportation.
SAFE Network participants commit to providing “universal representation” for any immigrant “regardless of income, race, national origin, or history with the criminal legal system.” The group’s stated goal is to make publicly funded universal representation for any illegal resident a federal mandate.
Other jurisdictions in the SAFE Network include large urban areas such as Los Angeles and New York City, as well as the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.
Although Texas law, Senate Bill 4, passed in 2017 prohibits so-called “Sanctuary City” or “Sanctuary County” policies, Harris County and other jurisdictions have backed away from assisting with enforcement of immigration laws in the past few years. After taking office three years ago, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) announced that his department would opt out of the 287(G) program, under which sheriff’s deputies were trained to identify suspects with deportation orders.
According to statistics provided by Hidalgo, more than 25 percent of county residents are “foreign born,” with an estimated 412,000 of those being “undocumented.”