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

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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."

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Brantley Hargrove