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

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.

The unrest in Farmers Branch began with a killing. On a May night in 2006, a dozen or more reports from an assault rifle rang out in a working-class neighborhood on the west side of town, near Josey Lane. A truck sped away, and Jesus Gallegos checked his house for bullet holes. Then he picked up his 18-month-old daughter, Eva Marie. The toddler was dead, a bullet through her tiny skull. Three weeks later, police arrested two acquaintances of Gallegos they believed were responsible. Police said they were suspected illegal immigrants.

The call for a crackdown came swiftly. "We need to address illegal immigration in our city and we need to do it now," O'Hare, who had been elected the year before, wrote to his fellow council members. "Drive around our city. [Councilman Bob Moses] said he doesn't want our city to become a ghetto. Half of our city already is. More of it will be if we don't do something quickly.

"I do not like to use a little girl's death to support a point, but the truth is more people will die if we don't take action."

O'Hare did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, but in an email to then-council member Charlie Bird that June, he wrote, "My family has been here since 1956 and almost everyone that I consider family lives here. I don't want us to have to move. I don't want to have to live somewhere else. 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. ... I personally believe that the type of families and development we want in our city will be encouraged if we took steps to drive out illegals."

Sometime that August, David Koch, a local real-estate attorney, reached out to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization that advocates for a sweeping immigration moratorium. In the previous several months, IRLI and Kobach had written ordinances to prevent undocumented immigrants from renting apartments in Valley Park, Missouri, and Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Koch conveyed the council's receptiveness to similar measures. Soon, the council received a copy of a model law from IRLI.

Farmers Branch was an ideal candidate to test out the group's ordinances. Like Valley Park and Hazleton, Farmers Branch was a small town that had seen its Hispanic population soar. And though the data didn't support it, many of each town's white residents believed that illegal immigrants were responsible for more crime, more school crowding and decreasing property values.

Farmers Branch, City Manager Gary Greer would later admit, had no hard numbers indicating just how much of the Latino population was undocumented, or any data on what kind of impact illegal immigration had.

Police Chief Sid Fuller said, "Are they responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime? That's not the case. That's not what we've seen."

But town leaders dreamed of transforming Farmers Branch. City Council members had visions of young families with disposable income. In the council chambers, the drumbeat was growing louder, though it wasn't directed solely at illegal immigrants. Councilman Ben Robinson recommended that August that the public library pull foreign-language materials from the shelves. O'Hare recommended cutting funding for the children of undocumented immigrants attending a summer youth program.

Several hundred protestors hoisting American flags marched on City Hall that month, chanting "O'Hare must go! O'Hare must go!"

Mayor Bob Phelps, a septuagenarian insurance salesman who'd been a fixture of Farmers Branch government since 1986, appealed for calm. In an open letter, he wrote, "... This problem will not be resolved by local governments throwing tax dollars at a problem that will only cost more tax dollars in lengthy litigation."

The previous city manager, responding to a query from Robinson about the advisability of an ordinance preventing day laborers from gathering within the city limits, warned of a lengthy, expensive and pointless fight ahead. "It is important to note that lawsuits such as the one currently pending against Hazleton are not covered by the city's insurance policy. Therefore, the city would have to assume 100 percent of the legal costs," Linda Groomer wrote. "In the meantime, the very same issues are being litigated by somebody else with somebody else's money, namely Hazleton. I strongly recommend against spending local FB tax dollars to join a legal battle."

On September 5, 2006, the council sent a resolution to President George W. Bush and every city council and federal representative in the state. Every conceivable societal ill was laid at the feet of the immigrant population. The residents of Farmers Branch, it read, "are worried and concerned about the impact of illegal aliens on our national security, crime rates, illicit drug trade, the negative impacts on property values, public schools, Parkland (hospital system) ... taxes, welfare costs, and other potential major problems."

Unless the federal government dealt with illegal immigration quickly, Farmers Branch would "take whatever steps it legally can."

The town was ready to boil over. In early November, less than a year after Mayor Phelps and his wife moved into their new home in the revitalized Branch Crossing neighborhood, vandals spray-painted the words "Viva Mexicos [sic]" in 6-foot-tall letters on an outside wall. Within a year, someone hurled a rock through his window. Phelps says he later got a visit from two FBI agents. "They asked 'Do you think the Hispanics did this?' I said, 'Shoot no! They know how to spell Mexico!'"

A week later, the council unleashed a legislative landslide against undocumented immigrants and the foreign-born. It designated English as the city's official language, seeking to "preserve the rights of those who speak only English" by taking down municipal signs in Spanish and by scrubbing foreign languages from city paperwork.

It authorized the city manager to pursue an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train a police officer to screen for suspected undocumented immigrants.

The council accepted a report from a group of locals tasked with creating a plan to revitalize the city. A few factors, the task force concluded, had prevented Farmers Branch from seeing the kind of development taking place in booming outer-ring suburbs. There was plenty of housing, but it was mostly affordable, 1,200-square-foot single-family homes the task force saw as the city's bane. But that wasn't Farmers Branch's only problem. "The City's Hispanic population increased from about 5 percent to 37 percent between 1970 and 2000 and continues to grow at a rate exceeding all other ethnic and racial populations in the City," the task force observed.

It identified the same "barrier" in the Four Corners area, once the city's dining and shopping hub. "In the Metroplex, retailers are responding to demographic change by increasingly marketing to growing ethnic populations, which in turn is giving rise to shopping centers devoted exclusively to ethnic populations, especially Hispanic, African American, and Asian populations. "

They were doing business, but not with the right people.

That night, after a closed session, the council unanimously approved the legal residency measure. A fine of $500 a day would be levied against any landlord who leased to an "unlawfully present" tenant. If the federal government refused to round them up, Farmers Branch would simply deny them shelter.

To understand the demographic shift in Farmers Branch is to comprehend the class and racial tensions shot through the immigration debate. Farmers Branch is the oldest settlement in Dallas County. The county's first cotton gin was built here. So, too, its first Baptist church and its first school. Farmers Branch was a land grant for "free and white" settlers. In 1946, the town incorporated, boasting some 800 inhabitants. By 1980, the population grew to more than 27,000. Roughly 8 percent of them were Hispanic. Five percent were foreign-born. Twenty years later, a quarter of the population was foreign-born, but not all of them hailed from Latin America. They were from the Pacific Rim, India and from all over Asia. But the most growth was among Latinos, who were 37 percent of Farmers Branch in 2000. By 2010, they had become the majority. City leaders despaired as home ownership rates fell and rental rates rose.

Historically speaking, a nearly direct antecedent for the council's actions can be found in 1870s San Francisco, according to an SMU anthropological study. Targeting the Chinese, the city banned carrying laundry tied to poles on the sidewalk. Another ordinance regulated the square footage apportioned to each adult, since many Chinese lived in cramped quarters.

Skeptical school board members have said the Farmers Branch council may have tried the latter by soliciting the names and addresses of children in the overwhelmingly Hispanic Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district. Some speculated that the council may have been attempting to determine whether the number of children per household violated a square-footage requirement.

Before long, the two rec-center televisions once set to Spanish-language channels were switched. A ban was placed on the opening of new cash-advance businesses. And when rumor spread that the Minyard grocery-store chain might open a Latino-centric Carnival grocer in Farmers Branch, council candidate Tim Scott organized a campaign to stop it. "I think it is a reasonable thing to wish for to have a grocery store that appeals to higher-end consumers," O'Hare told The Dallas Morning News. (At the time, Carnival had become Minyard's most profitable line of stores.)

Latino residents may be forgiven, then, for feeling singled out. Father Michael Forge of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church says his congregation lost some 500 parishioners in the years since the debate began. "There is kind of a mild fear, an insecurity, when coming into Farmers Branch," he says.

Manuel Aguirre, a Mary Immaculate parishioner, delivers liquor and wine for a local distributor. Aguirre emigrated from the Mexican state of Michoacán 30 years ago. He was 16 at the time, and he brought with him his new wife. They settled in this area, raised three children and never left. His son is a teacher at Vivian Field Elementary. Aguirre doesn't begrudge the town the right to craft its own rules, but believes they're counterproductive. "Right now, the sentiment of the Hispanic community is that this is against the Hispanic people. They feel like it's an attack to the whole community."

Hugo Ramirez, another parishioner, is an electrical engineer at Nokia Siemens in Irving. He emigrated from San Miguel, near Guadalajara, after graduating from the Universidad de Autónoma Guadalajara. "When I came and I'm asked where I go to church, I say Farmers Branch. And they say, 'Why do you go there? They hate Mexicans,'" he says. "That's the first time I know this. You see the people is afraid. They cannot live in peace, and they're good people, just working. ... It's a way of terrorism, in my opinion, in terms of scaring people."

In the public library on a warm May evening, Teresa Puga takes a class of four Latina women and one man through English pronouns and verbs.

"We are friends. What is the to-be verb?"

"We are the world," croons Julio Herrera, the class clown. Herrera, a stocky man with mechanic's hands and ceaselessly smiling eyes, hopes to improve his lot by learning English in these free classes. He came to Texas from El Salvador eight years ago under temporary protected status granted because of the destruction wrought on his country by earthquakes in 2001. He is now a maintenance man at a local apartment complex. Learning English, he hopes, will enable him to better understand his duties at work. But he has another, more pressing motive: He wants to be able to converse with his daughters, who were born here and speak only English.

One of them drapes her arms around his neck as she waits for him to finish. The ordinance, he says, has brought more uncertainty into a life already wracked with it. "His daughters have come home from school crying because their best friends have moved from the city," says Rolando Puga, a volunteer teacher and Teresa's brother, who interpreted for Herrera. "They cannot live in this city."

What's more, Herrera's life has for eight years been measured in 18-month increments. Every year and a half, he waits to see if the State Department will renew the protected status of Salvadorean refugees. He doesn't know what he will do if it is revoked. His daughters are Americans. But because the ordinance's collateral damage would afflict citizen children and their undocumented parents alike, should it survive in court then Farmers Branch could no longer be their home.

Within weeks of the passage of the renter's ordinance, the city was hit with lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Bickel and Brewer Storefront, the pro-bono arm of Dallas' Bickel & Brewer law firm, filed suit on behalf of the owners of three apartment complexes. The firm also sued the city on behalf of Guillermo Ramos, a real-estate attorney who claimed the council's back-room deliberations violated state open-meetings law.

Days later, the city secretary certified the success of a recall petition on the ordinance with some 1,700 signatures. A referendum would be held the following May. Then, on January 11, the day before the ordinance was to go into effect, the state judge in Ramos' open-meetings case blocked the city from enforcing it.

A week later, the council directed the city attorney to draft a new ordinance. Only this time, the council enlisted the brain behind the ordinances challenging the federal government's primacy in immigration. "I got a phone call," says Kris Kobach, former counsel to U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft under President George W. Bush. "And I returned it and said, 'Your ordinance needs to be changed. It's not gonna stand up.'"

On January 22, 2007, the council unanimously adopted a revised ordinance that would still require apartment complexes to verify the lawful immigration status of their tenants, but would use a framework the city claimed was similar to the kind used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nationally syndicated conservative radio personality Mike Gallagher presented the City Council with a $10,075 check for its legal defense fund, raised by selling shirts that read, "This is America. Please speak English." David Koch, the real-estate attorney and intermediary between IRLI and the council (and who was also preparing to make a run at a council seat), proffered a check for $2,100 on behalf of farmersbranchlegaldefensefund.com.

On the final day of voting, May 12, City Hall saw the largest turnout in Farmers Branch history. Voters approved the new ordinance by a two-to-one margin. Attorneys for the ACLU, MALDEF and Bickel & Brewer quickly filed for another temporary restraining order. A federal judge granted it. The following month, the plaintiffs got a preliminary injunction pending the outcome of a trial.

Determined to craft an ordinance that would survive a legal challenge, the city adopted its third and final ordinance in January 2008 with the help of Kobach. It was due to take effect 15 days after whatever ruling came from the federal court. Two months later, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay issued a permanent injunction, deeming the second immigration ordinance an unconstitutional encroachment on a federal prerogative. The City Council vowed its third ordinance would soon take effect. Again, Bickel & Brewer sued the city on behalf of apartment complex owners and succeeded in securing yet another temporary restraining order. By 2009, Farmers Branch was on the hook for a nearly half-million dollar mediated settlement to apartment owners and tenants. It was estimated it had incurred some $2 million in legal fees related to defending the ordinances. In March 2010, another federal judge permanently blocked the city from enforcing its third ordinance. The council voted unanimously to appeal. By that time, the toll was more than $3 million.

The city's doggedness gained it nationwide media attention. By last December, the feds took notice. In an amicus brief to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for the Justice Department argued that the city's ordinance rested upon a fundamental misunderstanding of immigration law. The federal program the city intended to use to verify the immigration status of a prospective tenant could tell them whether a non-citizen was subject to removal proceedings, but would not reveal the outcome.

Kobach is a true believer in the inherent authority of states and municipalities to enforce federal immigration law. And so he waved off practical considerations that could make verification tricky.

"The so-called problems with verification are a complete fabrication of the ACLU," Kobach scoffed.

But consider the volunteer English teacher, Rolando Puga, who possesses a master's degree in business administration. "I lost my work permit," he says. "I guess you could say I'm 'illegal.'"

Puga, now 39, emigrated to this country when he was 18. Before he lost his work visa, he was the international trade administrator for a bank, he says. Now he does whatever contract work he can get. "I tell people I do not have the privilege of working," he says. His case before the immigration court is pending, but years might pass before he sees a judge. Until then, no official or database can tell the Farmers Branch building inspector whether or not he has the right to live here. Like the many who remain, even as the council seemed to regard them as "barriers" to prosperity, he learned to cope.

"There was a lot of talk about it, and every day it's like, 'Did you hear the news?'" says Claudia Ortiz, manager of Paletería San Marcos, a shop her family has owned since 1998. "You sort of move on, even though it's looming over your head."

In July 2010, Bickel & Brewer sued Farmers Branch, charging that its at-large electoral system robbed the Latinos of council representation. The case will go before a judge later this month. The current system, the complaint alleges, "permits the possibility that the City Council could reside on the same street ..." They weren't far off. The entire City Council lived east of Webb Chapel, primarily in Brookhaven and Wooded Creek. On the west side of town, Hispanics could undoubtedly turn out in sufficient numbers to choose from one of their own in a single-member district scheme.

But in a citywide, at-large system, they'd never voted in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the voting bloc on the east side. As a result, Farmers Branch has only ever known white council members, though it wasn't for lack of trying.

On a recent afternoon, an investment adviser and Farmers Branch Rotary Club president named Jack Viveros lumbered up to a table outside the local Starbucks and eased into the chair. He's a bluff, enthusiastically profane man with a whitening goatee, and his 6-foot-3, nearly 300-pound frame scarcely fit into the chair.

He says he isn't afraid of any man, least of all the kind of man who allegedly threatened him when Viveros ran for council member Harold Froelich's seat last year. He claims Mayor Pro Tem David Koch called him up after he announced his candidacy. "[Koch] said, 'Hey, I can't believe you're actually running. That's very disappointing.'"

Koch, he claims, said he'd get him appointed to a board if he dropped out.

Koch disputes almost every aspect of his story and says Viveros called him, asking for help. Nor, he says, did he ever offer Viveros a seat on a board in exchange for dropping out. "If you call that offering a position, I told him to submit an application and see what happens. We have people applying regularly for a board."

The morning after his alleged conversation with Koch, Viveros claims someone called his cell phone. "It was Sam [Aceves, a Latino and City Council gadfly who was a fierce supporter of the immigration ordinance]. He said, 'Do you know who I am?'" Viveros said that he did.

"'It's in your best interest that you do not continue your campaign,'" Viveros claims Aceves said. He then informed Aceves that he had recorded their conversation. Viveros declined to produce the recording for a reporter, but Aceves was later indicted on charges of coercion against a candidate. He declined to discuss the charge.

"The feds followed me for the last six weeks of the campaign," Viveros says with a chuckle. "They wanted to make sure I made it to the election. I thought it was comical that they'd want to spend that much time and money, but he was interfering with an election."

The Department of Justice had been monitoring elections in Farmers Branch for three out of the last four years. If true, the incident fit in with a political climate that had grown acidic. But the only other indignity Viveros claims he suffered during the remainder of his campaign was a question at a candidate forum leveled at him alone. Reading from a card submitted by someone in the audience, a moderator asked, "Because of your nationality, would you be any more lenient on illegal immigrants, and if so, why?"

"I was livid. I said, 'First of all, let me explain this to you. I was born in Corpus Christi. My parents filed proper paperwork and became citizens. I find it offensive you would ask me that.'"

But nationality or, rather, ethnicity, was clearly on everyone's mind, and when the votes were tallied, Viveros lost by some 400 to Froelich, becoming the latest in an unbroken line of unsuccessful Hispanic candidates, most of whom say they were intimidated in one way or another. There was Ruben Rendon, a school psychologist, and Elizabeth Villafranca, owner of the Mexican food chain Cuquitas, who had earlier been denied entry into the Rotary Club. The very first, however, was José Galvez. Galvez pours slabs and sells concrete. In 2007, he ran against Tim Scott. A naturalized citizen, born in Mexico, Galvez shared a ballot with the ordinance referendum that turned out voters en masse. "It was a little bit rough," he says. "When I would visit households, they'd say, 'Hey, you illegal immigrant, get out of our country!' It's just unfortunate."

Galvez lost the three-way race with a scant 14 percent of the votes. Though Latinos now held the majority in Farmers Branch, they represented only 24 percent of eligible voters. With 66 percent of the eligible vote, whites maintained an unshakable grasp on City Hall.

Still, there are signs that some in Farmers Branch are working to unite the divided city. As early voting kicked off in May, Galvez ambled up to candidate Jeff Fuller in the City Hall parking lot. He had just cast his vote for him. He shook the hand of Rick Johnson, who supported both Fuller and the immigration ordinances. He's often described as a former O'Hare-faction lackey, accused of following opposing candidates as they conducted knock-and-talks. (For his part, Johnson says that while he campaigned on O'Hare's behalf, he didn't take instructions from the candidate and doesn't consider himself a lackey. He also denies he ever followed opposing candidates.) The two men share a bitter history, and this handshake was no mean feat.

Even that day, there was little common ground between them on the issue that looms over the town. Johnson still believed the town's Spanish-speaking enclaves are a breeding ground for crime. Galvez still gets questioning looks when he walks through the aisles of the grocery store in dusty work clothes. But both were voting Fuller. "I've got people in my campaign that two or three years ago weren't talking to each other and hated each other," Fuller says.

On March 21, a panel of the 5th Circuit Court permanently enjoined Farmers Branch's final ordinance. "We conclude 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 majority wrote.

To date, Farmers Branch has spent some $5 million defending its ordinances. It is now petitioning the 5th Circuit for a hearing from the entire court. If it is defeated, it may be on the hook for another $2 million in plaintiffs' legal fees.

In Hazleton, Pennsylvania (pop. 22,000), an ordinance almost identical to Farmers Branch's has been struck down by a federal appeals court. Though the city reportedly owes $2.4 million in legal bills, it has vowed to appeal.

In Fremont, Nebraska (pop. 26,000), another Kobach testing ground, a similar renter's provision was struck down in federal court. The city has spent some $1.5 million in legal fees, and may have to pay the plaintiff's attorneys another $800,000. Fremont, too, plans to appeal.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the suit against Arizona's infamous immigration enforcement law, SB 1070 — a law Kobach helped craft. The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon. A defeat, he says, is not the end. Though the state, already out of pocket millions, may be forced to pay the legal fees for the opposing side, Kobach says he will simply go back to the drawing board and tweak his formula.

On May 22, Fuller placed his hand on the Bible and swore an oath. The week before, he swept council member Michelle Holmes from her seat by a two-to-one margin. "There's a significant backlash, looking at the results of the election," says Gene Bledsoe, who ran against O'Hare in the 2008 mayoral race.

The moment Fuller was sworn in, the 30 or so people gathered in the council chambers stood and cheered. So, too, did his daughter and the son she adopted from Guatemala. Aside from Viveros, restaurateur Elizabeth Villafranca and Aceves, the boy was one of very few Hispanic attendees.

Fuller took the microphone. "I will work toward a more inclusive local government," he began, "for all our residents, and to include them in the decision-making process." Should the 5th Circuit decline to hear the city's case en banc, Fuller believes the voters should decide whether the city petitions the Supreme Court. As the residents circulated in the lobby, Villafranca sensed a change.

"I actually feel welcome here," she said. "The people who came here are different faces, friendly faces." For the first time in years, it felt like there was reason to hope.

Meanwhile, Aceves circled the room, shaking hands, celebrating the election of a man who had become disenchanted with the immigration ordinance Aceves suported. What, exactly, had changed?

"I know it might be right to bring it back to voters," he said. "And if that's what [Fuller] feels, I agree with him."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brantley Hargrove