Farmers Branch's Illegal-Immigrant Rental Ban May Finally Be Dead

The seven-year-long fight by the city of Farmers Branch to purge itself of undocumented immigrants may be coming to a court-ordered close.

Last year, a judge ordered the city to implement single-member City Council districts, which shook up the formerly lily-white city government with the May election of Ana Reyes as the body's first-ever Hispanic representative. And now, $6 million in legal fees later, its ban on renting houses and apartments to illegal immigrants has been struck down by the 5fth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, probably for good.

See also: In Farmers Branch Immigration Fight, Competing Readings of Supreme Court's Arizona Ruling

A three-judge panel of 5th vCircuit already declared the ordinance unconstitutional more than a year ago, but the city won its request for another hearing.

The latest ruling was based heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer declaring much of Arizona's illegal immigrant-targeting SB 1070 unconstitutional. In that case, the justices ruled that provisions of the Arizona law were in conflict with, and therefore pre-empted by, federal policy under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause.

Taking the high court's lead, a majority of the 5th Circuit justices argued that, by making it a criminal offense to rent to undocumented immigrants, Farmers Branch was treading on ground already staked out Congress, which long ago made it a felony to "conceal, harbor, or shield from detection" anyone in the country illegally.

In fact, the justices write, Farmers Branch's ordinance is in many ways more extreme than the Arizona law because it "not only criminalizes occupancy of a rented apartment or single-family residence, but puts local officials in the impermissible position of arresting and detaining persons based on their immigration status without federal direction and supervision."

Farmers Branch officials told The Dallas Morning News that the city will review the case before deciding how to proceed. More than likely, though, this is the end of the line. The Supreme Court is unlikely to take the case, since it addressed the same issues in the Arizona case. Then again, the city has shown remarkable ingenuity in dreaming up ways to pour money into efforts to prop up their anti-immigrant crusade.

Reyes, the newly elected City Council member, thinks it's time to stop.

"The anti-immigration ordinance was outside of our local jurisdiction," she told the News. "It is unconstitutional. This issue has been extremely divisive and costly for the citizens of Farmers Branch. It's now time to move forward and reinvest our residents' hard-earned tax dollars back into our community."

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson