While protestors chanted and waved American flags outside, the Farmers Branch city council on Monday night unanimously passed a series of measures that declare English the official language, penalize landlords for renting to undocumented immigrants and allow local police to determine whether suspects in custody are in the country illegally.
Representatives from Hispanic groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, said they were considering legal action as early as today to challenge the measures' constitutionality: "This is un-American, un-Texan and un-Christian, and we're going to take them to court, and we're going to win," said Domingo Garcia, LULAC's national civil rights chairman and a former state representative. "Unfortunately, it's going to cost the taxpayers of Farmers Branch a lot of money."
Lisa Graybill, state legal director for the ACLU, said she would meet with the other organizations to determine which legal course to take. "The ACLU doesn't stand down when the Constitution is on the table," she said.
Dozens of protestors had arrived at City Hall on Monday afternoon with signs that mentioned council member Tim O'Hare, who raised the proposals in August. One read, "Mr. O'Hare, what would Jesus do?"; another, "In God We Trust, O'Hare is Unjust." By 6 p.m., hundreds of people crammed into the lobby and scrambled to get close to the chambers' glass doors. Twenty minutes later the room had reached capacity, and the majority of the crowd was left in the lobby. Hispanic leaders stood on benches and led chants of, "Si se puede!" and "We are USA!"
Amid the chaos, a woman with a blond ponytail jostled to get closer to the doors. "The schools are being overrun by non-English speaking kids," she said angrily, "They don't want to become American citizens, they just want to work and send money home." The man next to her added, "I'm tired of paying for 'anchor babies'"; he was presumably referring to the children of undocumented immigrants. Both refused to give Unfair Park their names, insisting they were afraid of reprisals. The man said he didn't want to come home to find his home vandalized, after someone spray-painted "Viva Mexico" on Mayor Bob Phelps' house last week. The woman said, "I'm afraid of being murdered."
As he pushed to the front of the line, Tom Bohmier handed out yellow door hangers with a questionnaire that asked residents if they supported the immigration proposals and directed feedback to Support Farmers Branch, a group that supports the measures. Bohmier said they hung the slips on 8,000 doors last weekend.
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After state representatives Rafael Anchia and Roberto Alonzo urged the town leadership to leave immigration policy to the federal government, the council approved the measures with three 6-0 votes. The resolution making English the official language provides a number of exceptions, including language instruction, the protection of public health and representation of criminal defendants and victims of crime. The rental ban requires tenants to show proof of citizenship or legal residence and allows for landlords who violate the rule to face misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $500 per day. The third measure allows local police to screen suspects after arrest to see if they have proper immigration documents. Current policy allows only federal immigration officials to do so, such as at the Dallas County jail.
Josh Sullivan, who stood outside after the meeting and wore an American flag tie, said he was pleased that the council took action but felt disappointed that there was no measure penalizing employers for hiring illegal immigrants.
"This is the first town in Texas to address the issue," he said. "I'm hoping other towns will take note and follow suit."
A few yards away, Estela Rodriguez had the opposite reaction. "It's a sad day for Farmers Branch," she said in Spanish. "We should all be dressed in black." --Megan Feldman