Farmers Branch Gets A Rehearing Before Appeals Court on Immigration Law

A controversial Farmers Branch immigration ordinance will get a second chance in court after a sound rejection back in March, and the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration bill will play a determining role.

Farmers Branch has three times passed a "housing" ordinance which would require anyone renting a house or apartment in the town to first prove their lawful immigration status and three times has been rebuffed in federal court, to the tune of some $5 million in legal bills. The town council passed the first measure back in 2006 on the grounds that it would combat the ills of illegal immigration, though those ills were never exactly quantified or studied. What was quantified was a sharp swing in the town's ethnic make-up, which is now majority Latino (the whole brouhaha is the subject of a recent cover story).

A collection of apartment complex owners and tenants, both documented and undocumented, sued the city, successfully winning permanent injunctions against the rule in federal court.

Farmers Branch didn't find a much more receptive audience in a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The judges concluded that "the ordinance's sole purpose is not to regulate housing but to exclude undocumented aliens, specifically Latinos, from the City of Farmers Branch and that it is an impermissible regulation of immigration."

The panel, however, was split, two to one, signalling the potential for an en banc rehearing before the appeals court which, on the heels of the high court's ruling on Arizona's sprawling immigration law, will happen on Sept. 16 per a decision Tuesday by 5th Circuit Judges. Attorneys on both sides think their chances are good.

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Brantley Hargrove