This week, city leaders in the Houston suburb of Tomball, Texas, joined a host of other local leaders when they voted not to pursue harsh immigration enforcement measures at a city council meeting. Council members cited costly lawsuits while city residents expressed fear of being branded unwelcoming and “racist.” The ordinances under consideration would have banned undocumented immigrants from renting property or owning businesses and would have made English Tomball’s official language. The council also voted to continue running a day labor site and tabled a mandate banning companies awarded city contracts from hiring undocumented workers.

In an anti-immigration backlash that continues to grow, city council members voted against anti-immigration proposals at a Tomball city council meeting on Tuesday. City leaders and residents alike found the ordinances to be too costly for Tomball—a city of 10,000 which is 87% white and 12% Hispanic—considering the legal challenges and fees faced by other cities with similar measures on the books. Councilman Preston Dodson concluded:

It would not serve this city well, spending our time and money pursuing this kind of ordinance.

City residents also chimed in:

“Why put this wonderful city on the national map of racism and hatred,” said David Smith, who teaches government at a community college near Houston.

“I’m a home builder,” said Tony Martinez, who has lived in Tomball for five years. “If you bought a home for $150,000, it’s because of the day laborers, the cheap labor. Everyone has a nice home right now. Thank the immigrants.”

Councilman Derek Townsend, who proposed the measures, actually voted not to pursue the ordinances after Dodson and other members spoke up. Although he wants to penalize undocumented immigrants in some way for entering the country illegally, he cited potential lawsuits as a reason not to move forward.

Recall that Farmers Branch, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), has already spent about $3.2 million defending itself since September 2006, when it launched the first of three immigration ordinances. Similarly, Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s insurance carrier is asking a federal judge to rule that it is not responsible for nearly $2.4 million in attorney fees being sought by the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the city s Illegal Immigration Relief Act.

Likewise, other cities are pulling back or halting immigration enforcement legislation after a federal district judge enjoined the most controversial provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070:

  • In Fremont, Nebraska—where residents fought a two-year battle with the city to pass an ordinance that requires businesses to verify employees’ immigration status and renters to apply for an occupancy license—the city council recently delayed enforcement of the ordinance just days before it was scheduled to go into effect. City Council President, Scott Getzschman, said the council needs to “look at our resources carefully” and consider best interest of the citizens of Fremont” as they evaluate legal challenges before moving forward.
  • In Ohio, state representative Courtney Combs (R-Hamilton) is revising Ohio’s version of Arizona’s law to avoid potential lawsuits, claiming that filing an Arizona-style bill “would be wasting taxpayers’ money” and a need to “comply with what the federal courts come up with.”
  • Idaho’s state senator, Robert Geddes, edited out the provisions enjoined in Arizona’s law from a similar Idaho bill, remarking that it doesn’t help Idaho to “engage in the same battle that Arizona has lost.”

As other cities and states consider the financial and political fallout of passing immigration enforcement measures, let’s hope Congress takes note of these localities acting in their residents’ best interest, puts politics aside and finds the will to pick up the immigration mantle once and for all.

Photo by Jamison Wieser.