Dallas Suburb’s Move on Illegal Immigration Being Fought

Anabelle Garay, AP, September 8, 2008

Opponents of a Dallas suburb’s latest effort to drive away illegal immigrants asked a federal judge Monday to restrain Farmers Branch officials from enforcing a ban on rental housing to people who can’t prove they are in the country legally.

They are seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Farmers Branch from requiring prospective apartment and house renters to obtain a city license as part of a rule set to take effect Saturday. Under the ordinance, the city would forward information from the license application to the federal government so it can verify immigration status.

The request to stop the ordinance continues a nearly two-year battle in Farmers Branch, where city officials have created a handful of measures attempting to keep illegal immigrants from living there. The proposed laws have been met by lawsuits and protests, and a judge found a previous city immigration-related housing rule to be unconstitutional.

Attorney Michael Jung, who represents Farmers Branch, said the city will oppose the request.

“The entire purpose of this ordinance is to encourage and prevent illegal immigrants from living in Farmers Branch,” Jung said. “We don’t think that it’s going to be a significant burden to people who are legitimate and want to rent in Farmers Branch.”

Violation of federal law

The plaintiffs allege the city is violating federal housing laws, and that the ordinance is part of an attempt to push out Hispanic residents.

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City officials planned to seek an agreement with the federal government for access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database and were working to set up an online method to apply for a rental license, Jung said.

Officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have said the city must apply for an agreement to access the database. Federal officials would then consider whether it’s lawful and appropriate for the city to access the database, which is used to determine if immigration status entitles a person to a state or federal benefit.

Focus on immigrants

Farmers Branch stepped into the nationwide political debate over immigration in 2006 at the urging of then first-term councilman and personal injury lawyer Tim O’Hare.

At the time, the city had changed from a small, predominantly white bedroom community with a declining population to a city of almost 28,000. Nearly 40 percent of city residents are Hispanic, including U.S. citizen and foreign-born Latinos, according to the Census.

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Farmers Branch council members approved the latest ordinance to go into effect 15 days after a judge’s final ruling on a previous ban that was challenged in court. The final ruling came late last month, when U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay struck down a rule that would have required apartment operators to verify whether prospective tenants were living in the country legally. The judge concluded it was unconstitutional.

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[Editor’s Note: Other stories about Farmers Branch’s efforts are listed here.]

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