The High Cost of Segregating a City

Illustration by Craig LaRotonda

It seems like just yesterday that Farmers Branch passed a slew of anti-illegal immigrant measures, but, no, it's been nearly two months, and still people are shouting at one another outside City Hall.

Forced by a grassroots petition to either repeal the ban on renting to illegal immigrants or include it in a May referendum, the city council voted Monday to let voters weigh in. The ordinance, which also makes English the town's official language and allows local law enforcement to determine suspects' immigration status, takes effect Friday.

As the council prepared to make its latest decision on Monday, shouting matches took place outside, with those in favor of the laws accusing opponents of collecting the more than 900 petition signatures under false pretenses. One of the law's supporters -- Tom Bohmier, who helped organize this Web site dedicated to ridding Farmers Branch of illegal immigrants -- told The Dallas Morning News: "This petition process was a total waste of our time and attention.

Bohmier's Web site also serves as a fundraiser for Farmers Branch city council member Tim O'Hare -- the man, of course, behind the anti-illegals ordinances; O'Hare allegedly has nothing to do with the site. But when it comes to issues of money, Bohmier also tells Dallas' Only Daily, "The residents request the City Council consider making Uniting Farmers Branch pay for any costs associated with putting this to ballot and to have their circulators be addressed by whatever legal measures are appropriate."

Uniting Farmers Branch is a grassroots organization formed by a group of Farmers Branch residents, including several LULAC members, who want to diversify the town's leadership. In other words, they don't want the entire council to look like Tim O'Hare. At the moment, Bohmier's organization is supporting two Farmers Branch city council candidates -- Tim Scott and David Koch -- who support O'Hare's efforts.

But forget the ballot costs, for the moment. With lawsuits piling up, the city is facing some serious financial consequences. Three lawsuits have been filed: one from a resident accusing the city of violating open meetings laws by debating the ordinance behind closed doors, another from three apartment complexes and yet another from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A group of merchants is also threatening to sue, saying they've lost customers since the laws were passed.

Not that taxpayers should worry. To defray legal costs, the city has collected a whopping $6,105. --Megan Feldman

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky