Farmers Branch Has Spent Five Years and Millions of Dollars Trying to Keep Out Mexicans. Is It Time for a Truce?

Farmers Branch Has Spent Five Years and Millions of Dollars Trying to Keep Out Mexicans. Is It Time for a Truce?
Naomi Vaughan
When Jose Galvez block-walked during his Farmers Branch council campaign, some voters called him an illegal immigrant.

Until five years ago, Farmers Branch (pop. 28,000) had about as much renown as "a speck on a flea," the town's former mayor once remarked. It was just one landlocked postage stamp in a melange of inner-ring suburbs. But as the turn of the 21st century came and went, it became something else: a thriving Hispanic-majority enclave where cheap housing was plentiful and paleterías and panaderías sprang up alongside Dairy Queen and Beauty Express. A new community was growing in the midst of — and separated from — this historically Anglo 'burb.

Take a drive through town and you'll see it. Start out on the east side, around Brookhaven Country Club, or the Wooded Creek neighborhood, and you'll find sprawling, well-maintained ranch homes and two-story brick affairs with red-clay tile roofs, wrought-iron gated drives and emerald lawns and hedges tended by Latino yard workers.

Head west across Webb Chapel Road, and the big houses give way to apartment buildings and wood-frame bungalows. Battered trucks and flatbed trailers sit in driveways and along curbs, and the Latino faces you pass tend their own lawns.

Farmers Branch hasn't so much grown as its complexion has darkened over the last 20 years. You wouldn't know it by looking at the City Council, though. That's because the voting bloc that does the electing in Farmers Branch's at-large council system isn't on the west side of Webb Chapel. It's in the country club and the community of white, politically active seniors who were born here and are determined to see their beloved city returned to a white and solidly middle-class town.

All of this might help explain how Tim O'Hare, a young personal-injury lawyer, won a seat on the City Council and then became mayor after serving a single term, gaining enough political inertia to pass an illegal-immigration ordinance that would become the most controversial issue ever to roil Farmers Branch. By 2006, Farmers Branch would join two other tiny towns and, later, Arizona as Petri dishes in Kansas-based immigration warrior Kris Kobach's experiment to test how far local governments may go to enforce federal immigration law.

To reverse the alleged decline in property values, and the perceived overcrowding of public schools caused by an influx of what O'Hare described as "less desirable people" who "don't value education" and "don't take care of their properties," the council required every apartment complex in town to verify that its tenants were here legally. When a state court blocked that rule, Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, helped them write a second, then a third, each tweaked to survive constitutional challenge and each tangled in lawsuits that would cost the city dearly.

More than five years later and $5 million spent defending the rules, the city persists in its quixotic, taxpayer-fueled campaign. Meanwhile, it keeps a watchful eye on the U.S. Supreme Court and what the U.S. Justice Department's challenge to local anti-immigration efforts may portend.

Meanwhile, the electoral ground that allowed Farmers Branch's ordinance to blossom may be shifting.

On a recent May afternoon Michelle Holmes, a City Council incumbent in the only contested race, sat at one end of the parking lot in front of City Hall. She wore a fire-engine red shirt with "LOVE" printed on it in big white letters. The logo was the council's attempt to rebrand the town. "Love The Branch," the slogan went. But the candidate bearing this message was a raw reminder of the spit-flecked animus the immigration debate continues to incite. In an widely circulated email only several months before, Holmes wrote to Mayor Bill Glancy and the rest of the council, insisting that unless "we see a change in our demographics, we will not see marked improvements at [R.L. Turner High School]. We are doing everything we can at the council level to make that happen by taking the fight against illegal immigration to the courts."

Holmes claims the "demographics" comment had nothing to do with ethnicity, but the man challenging her for the council seat, who was working the other end of the parking lot, wasn't convinced. "You can't be writing stuff like that and go to restaurants and ask for their support. That's wrong," says Jeff Fuller, who had just retired after 20 years directing the city's parks and rec department.

Fuller grew up in Hidalgo County, some six miles from the border. His son-in-law is Latino. His grandson was adopted from Guatemala. But Fuller at first supported the crackdown on illegal immigrants. Somewhere along the way, though, the conversation changed. "Illegal," he says, became just another way to say "Latino."

"Where our problem is in this city is that they tend to group everybody together," he says. "We have a great opportunity to heal the city now, to unite it. I don't want my grandson categorized by the color of his skin."

Fuller believes it's time to give the voters a chance to decide: If the ordinance suffers yet another court defeat, is it time to quit, or to take it all the way to the Supreme Court?

Some say that a Fuller victory would constitute a referendum on five years of division. "It's the biggest foo-pah the city ever did," says Roger O'Brien, a Brooklynite who has lived in Farmers Branch since 1968, as he headed into City Hall to vote. But the ethnic politics of Farmers Branch are never quite that simple.

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Guest 2
Guest 2

Well, I'm a proud liberal who lives in an area (Pleasant Grove) where Hispanics have taken over, and this is not a good thing for the neighborhoods. I have to agree with "Guest" below. Most of these people do not know how to assimilate into the community and live accordingly. They are arrogant, have no sense of pride in their properties, and they allow their animals to run rampant. They also allow their children (which are many), to trespass on other's property. I know other races do this also, but not to the extent of Hispanics. Hopefully, I'll be able to get out of this hell-hole before I die.

Aurora Stlaurent
Aurora Stlaurent

Regardless of where you live, you must understand that there is an expectation to follow suit with expectations or make the place even better. Skin color is not important, but upholding moral integrity, honor those around you, supporting education, and the like are why people still need to fight for their towns and cities. It is just such a shame that some underlying bigotry may have surfaced when the new rules and laws should have been stricter ordinances for all, higher expectations for apartment complexes to uphold with the leases, etc. it is not too late to encourage and enforce expectations so that people who are law abiding and want a better life are given a fair shake. Many people I personally know left The Branch over the past few years because the law is not maintaining safety and expectation. If students aren't attending school and performing increase court fines, increase noise ordinances, institute city housing expectations or rather actually monitor, ticket, and expect change from all community members both sides of web chapel.


Seriously. I live in Oak Cliff and like it too. In fact, I've lived in Dallas or the surrounding area for more than 50 years and I can't remember going to Farmer's Branch for anything. I drive through it to go to Lewisville and Denton, but I've never stopped there.


The Truth Hurts! Hey liberals, screaming racism won't help you anymore. The fact is, the vast majority of Mexicans living in the southern united states are ILLEGAL ALIENS. Where do they get off thinking the US "owes" them anything? THEY ARE BREAKING THE LAW. How would they like it if a bunch of illegal "gringos" showed up in their Mexican towns and started demanding that the locals speak English, pay for our schooling and medical bills, and allow us to vote and run for office? Maybe we should, then the US wouldn't have to baby-sit Mexico all the damn time because Felipe Calderón can't clean up the sh-t in his own backyard. So he sends it all to America and then has the gall to call us racist or bigots for wanting to protect our own borders and sovereignty and trying to keep the violent mexican drug cartels OUT of our country! SCREW HIM and F--K THIRD WORLD MEXICO.

OC Robbie
OC Robbie

"But, I'm not going to live in Oak Cliff, which is what we are becoming and going to become if we don't make some serious changes and spend some money." Tim O'Hare just shows his ignorance with this statement. Farmers Branch should strive to be like Oak Cliff - a community of diverse people, beautiful historic homes and a thriving dining and entertainment district. When was the last time you heard a group of friends say :let's meet in FB for drinks and dinner and then catch some live music"? Bashing another community to make a point just shows his true character - biased.

American Dreamer
American Dreamer

from "In one of the most neglected sections of his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson posed the question, “Are there no inconveniences to be thrown into the scale against the advantage expected by a multiplication of numbers by the importation of foreigners?” What was likely to happen, according to Jefferson, was that immigrants would come to America from countries that would have given them no experience living in a free society. They would bring with them the ideas and principles of the governments they left behind --ideas and principles that were often at odds with American liberty. “Suppose 20 millions of republican Americans thrown all of a sudden into France, what would be the condition of that kingdom?” Jefferson asked. “If it would be more turbulent, less happy, less strong, we may believe that the addition of half a million of foreigners to our present numbers would produce a similar effect here.”

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