Splitsville

No border fences make for mad neighbors in Farmers Branch

In Farmers Branch, while O'Hare supporters pushed for measures to "protect our land from invasion" and "cultural destruction" and immigrant advocacy organizations fired back, people who in the past didn't so much as vote or write their congressmen were stirred enough to show up at meetings and march on City Hall.


Tim O'Hare, a former college football player with brown, carefully parted hair and chestnut eyes, was born in Farmers Branch and has said his family settled there in 1956. He studied finance at UT, attended law school at SMU and worked for local defense and personal injury firms until 2001, when he founded Timothy O'Hare and Associates. In city council meetings and in interviews with the media, he has stressed his commitment to revitalizing his hometown. A member of the Farmers Branch Church of Christ as well as numerous Christian legal associations, he declined an interview with the Dallas Observerbecause he takes issue with the newspaper's adult advertisements. He'd consulted his pastor about it, he said over the phone, and concluded it would be no different from granting an interview to Playboy. He recently spearheaded ordinances that bar sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or day-care centers and would set tough regulations for property upkeep, including limits on the number of flower pots allowed in people's yards.

O'Hare framed his immigration proposals as part of this revitalization crusade, saying that, among other things, immigrants often neglect their yards. His claims that immigrants were causing decline in the schools and a surge in crime were later proved to be wrong. The school district's state designation has gone from "acceptable" to "recognized," which means that at least 70 percent of the students passed proficiency tests. Police say crime was down 4.6 percent from 2004 to 2005, and city officials said it was down 9 percent from 2005. Nonetheless, in mid-September, O'Hare told Dallas Blog, "Our crime rate is rising—it's not in horrific shape, but it's on the rise." Property values, which he said were in decline or stagnant, have actually increased 6 percent since 2005.

The subject of immigration has caused a rift in the community of Farmers Branch
Illustration by Craig LaRotonda
The subject of immigration has caused a rift in the community of Farmers Branch
Elizabeth Villafranca had never involved herself in politics before, but recent proposals targeting illegal immigrants in Farmers Branch prompted her to protest and speak out with her 6-year-old daughter, Natalie.
Steve Satterwhite
Elizabeth Villafranca had never involved herself in politics before, but recent proposals targeting illegal immigrants in Farmers Branch prompted her to protest and speak out with her 6-year-old daughter, Natalie.

A crowd showed up to greet O'Hare at the August 21 city council meeting, just a few weeks after he'd mentioned his informal proposal to the council. He addressed the people gathered with signs and spoke in a confident drawl: "I didn't quite expect this kind of turnout, this kind of rah-rah...To suggest that anything behind my ideas is racist is sad. I'm not anti-Hispanic; I'm not anti any race, country, ethnic origin, nationality or anything of the type. I'm strictly against people who are here illegally, people who are breaking the law." He was interrupted by clapping and cheers. "This is not anti-Hispanic. It's simply a matter of fairness."

Resident Joe Pineda wasn't buying it. He'd questioned how O'Hare could make broad statements about a group of people without any statistics to back them up. "I'm appalled that a city council member said what was said without proper documentation," Pineda said that evening. "I just don't see how a public servant could do something like that."

Ben Robinson—the only council member to come out strongly in favor of the proposals—had also suggested banning the gathering of day laborers and authorizing police officers to report immigrants with questionable documents to immigration authorities.

Mayor Bob Phelps was much more cautious, saying the city should wait for the federal government to define immigration policy. "They need to give us some rules to go by that we can enforce," he said. "A small city like Farmers Branch can't take on the whole world."


On August 21, Elizabeth Villafranca climbed in her Suburban and showed up at her first city council meeting with 6-year-old Natalie in tow.

When they arrived, she spotted only a few other Latinos. Where is everyone? she kept thinking. A group of people stood with signs that read, "What part of illegal don't you understand?" and "We welcome legal aliens." Reporters gathered outside the building and in the foyer, and suddenly she was surrounded by cameras.

Soon, Elizabeth went from explaining her sign to justifying her presence in the first place. Several residents demanded to know where she lived. Did she live in Farmers Branch? No, she said, she and her husband owned a business there. One woman said, "How dare you say the city of Farmers Branch is racist?" Another gave her "the evil eye." At one point, in the tumult of signs and flurry of questions, a man complained that Natalie had stepped on his toe. After Enrique arrived from the restaurant and joined his family, the same man approached him. Enrique doesn't remember all of what he said, only that it began with, "How dare you use your daughter to promote your views?"

Later, while cooking dinner at home, Elizabeth talked about the recent controversy and the importance of passing on her culture to her daughter. She spoke heatedly of Pat Buchanan's notion of a Mexican conspiracy to reconquer the Southwest, while Natalie, perched on a stool at the stove, asked if she could warm the tortillas. "Not yet, mija," Elizabeth answered. She turned to me. "You're not in a hurry to go home, are you?"

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