Texas’s Largest County Approves Deportation Defense Fund
By David Jaroslav | FAIR Take | March 2020
Houston and surrounding Harris County is the most populous county in Texas and the third largest in the U.S. with a combined population of almost 4.7 million. This immense county, whose population exceeds that of roughly half the states, is now leaning on its taxpayers to defend illegal aliens from deportation.
On February 25, the Harris County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 along party lines to create the “Immigration Legal Services Program,” which would pay for immigration lawyers to represent illegal aliens who the federal government is trying to remove from the country. The program was proposed by County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) and supported by Democrat County Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia. (In Texas, the judicial title refers to the elected county executive who also chairs the commissioner’s court.) It was opposed by Republican County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle.
This Legal Services Program will cost taxpayers between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Dallas, Austin and San Antonio have similar programs at the city level, but Harris County would be the first county in Texas to create one. Some large sanctuary jurisdictions like California and New York City spend millions of their taxpayers’ dollars annually on such funds.
Remembrance Project Founder Maria Espinoza appeared before the commissioners to oppose Harris County creating the program. She said, “[t]he Harris County taxpayer should not foot the bill and hold the bag for those who cross the border illegally … You talk about separating families? American families are permanently being separated.”
According to SmartAsset.com, Harris County already “has some of the highest property taxes not just in Texas, but in the entire country. The average effective property tax rate in Harris County is 2.09 percent, significantly higher than the national average.” In addition, Harris County imposes the maximum local sales tax of 2 percent, on top of the 6.25 percent state sales tax, for a total of 8.25 percent, well above the combined statewide average of 7.613 percent. Paying to keep illegal aliens in Harris County would increase pressure on these rates, both directly for the defense fund itself, and indirectly in terms of other strained public services. In 2017, FAIR estimated that Texas taxpayers as a whole spent almost eleven billion dollars a year on illegal aliens and their children. Officials at the commissioners’ meeting estimated there are 412,000 illegal aliens in Harris County alone.
The Texas State Legislature only meets every other year, and won’t convene again until 2021. In 2017 it enacted an extensive anti-sanctuary law, SB 4, to stop cities and counties from undermining federal immigration enforcement. Texans might want to strongly consider whether next year their state lawmakers should follow up on that and forbid local governments from spending their tax money like this to keep illegal aliens in Texas.