Farmers Branch Studies Tough Provisions Aimed At Illegal Immigrants

Stephanie Sandoval, Dallas Morning News, August 21, 2006

Farmers Branch—Illegal immigrants are responsible for much of what’s wrong with Farmers Branch, says City Council member Tim O’Hare.

So he proposes making it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city.

Today, the City Council will discuss possible ways to do that, including prohibiting landlords from leasing to illegal immigrants, penalizing businesses that employ them, making English the city’s official language and ceasing publication of any documents in Spanish, and eliminating subsidies for illegal immigrants in the city’s youth programs.

Some Hispanic advocates say doing so would brand Farmers Branch as a racist community and embroil the city in protests and lawsuits.

“The reason I got on the City Council was because I saw our property values declining or increasing at a level that was below the rate of inflation,” Mr. O’Hare said. “When that happens, people move out of our neighborhoods, and what I would call less desirable people move into the neighborhoods, people who don’t value education, people who don’t value taking care of their properties.”

He also said local schools have dropped in recent years in state rankings, and retail operations cater to low-income and Spanish-speaking customers, leaving “no place for people with a good income to shop.”

“Illegal immigrants are a large cause of it,” he said.

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The 2000 census showed that 25.2 percent of the population of Farmers Branch was foreign-born. The census did not report how many were illegal immigrants.

‘City of hate’

The idea already is generating strong reaction among Hispanic leaders.

Hector Flores, immediate past national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said adopting such local ordinances is tantamount to racism.

“Farmers Branch now is going to be a city of hate,” he said. “I’m sure the Statue of Liberty must be crying right now, knowing some of our subjects in this great democracy of ours are conjuring up to make life more miserable for those who are here trying to eke out a living, contributing to our great country through their sweat and tears, only looking for what our forefathers were looking for when they came here.”

Domingo Garcia, a Dallas lawyer and one of the organizers of a march in downtown Dallas last spring that drew nearly 500,000 people in opposition to proposed federal immigration legislation, said if the city enacts such ordinances, it can expect litigation.

“And we can guarantee the city of Farmers Branch taxpayers that if such an ordinance was to pass, they should be prepared to see property taxes increase to pay for … not only having the ordinance overturned as unconstitutional, but having to pay attorneys’ fees for whichever group decides to sue,” Mr. Garcia said.

Mayor Bob Phelps said the city should wait until changes being considered in federal immigration law are enacted. He also fears the city could get sued if the City Council enacts the measures Mr. O’Hare is talking about.

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“We have a council member or two that want to push this, but I don’t think now is the time,” Mr. Phelps said. “Until we get some clear understanding of what can be done, or what the United States is going to do, it’s hard for us in Farmers Branch, being a little town of 27,000, to do anything.”

The council has six members, including the mayor. Most of the council is undecided on whether to implement local ordinances restricting illegal immigrants.

Mr. O’Hare said the city must do something to protect its taxpayers from shouldering the burdens caused by illegal immigrants.

“I don’t blame illegal immigrants for coming here. They come from poor conditions, get to come over here and get free medical care, get a free education, not pay taxes, and compared to their living conditions before, they get to come over here and live like kings and queens,” Mr. O’Hare said. “I fault government officials who are afraid to do anything about it because of political correctness, who are afraid to do anything about it because of the ACLU, and blame people who sit back and say it’s not our problem.”

O’Hare urges courage

He says that although regulating immigration is a federal issue, it’s up the cities to protect their interests.

“I want to see our local government have the courage to do what they all want to do and what residents want them to do and not back down because of fear of political correctness or being sued,” he said.

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About 37 percent of the city’s residents in 2000 were Hispanic, up from 20.2 percent in 1990.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Texas in 2005 was second among the states for the highest number of illegal immigrants, an estimated 1.4 to 1.6 million.

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