Harris County not joining legal challenge against 'sanctuary cities' law

In the end, it wasn't even close. Harris County will not be joining more than a half-dozen Texas jurisdictions in a legal challenge of the new Texas 'anti-sanctuary city' law.

The plea to Harris County Commissioners began with clear-eyed reason.

"I am a U.S. citizen, a proud American and I think it would be a travesty for me to be questioned about my status as an American based on the color of my skin," said Texas State Representative Armando Walle.

"What does a Texan look like?," asked Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia during the commissioners court meeting. "What does an American look like? What does somebody from Harris County look like? This bill cannot be implemented without racial profiling." 

But reason would give way to emotion, escalating to anger and a pledge of political retaliation.

"If you do not lead now, we will run you over and run you out of office," screamed a female protester who was escorted out of the meeting. "You are on notice! We will remember how you stood on this topic!"

Ultimately, Harris County commissioners decided not to join the cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin in a legal challenge to the newly-passed "Anti-Sanctuary City" law. A handful of Texas counties have also joined the legal battle.

A motion to join the lawsuit by Commissioner Rodney Ellis died after failing to gain a second.

"Do I understand the emotion? Yes. Do I react to the threats? No," explained Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

While Emmett considers the "show me your papers" provision of the measure legislative "overreach," he contends Harris County has no business challenging a law it has not broken.

"Harris County is not a sanctuary county and never has been," added Emmett. "Technically, the legislature creates counties and abolishes counties. We are an arm of state government, so it will be like suing ourselves."

Disappointed activists and Hispanic political leaders called the outcome at best, a "copout" and at worst, "betrayal."

"Any silence by any governmental entity is in my view, acceptance of SB4," added Rep. Walle.

"Right now, it is not a time to stand idle," said Cesar Espinosa, an activist for immigrant rights. "It's time to fight back against all the bad things happening to our community." 

Texas law now allows police to inquire about individuals' immigration status and requires them to turn immigrants over to federal immigration officials upon request.  

Houston City Council voted 10-6 in June to join the lawsuit against SB4.

The lawsuit filed by the Texas cities that are opposing SB4 claims the measure prevents cities from setting policies for police immigration checks and could lead to violations of equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights.