Villafranca's Bid for Farmers Branch Council Has Very Little to Do With Immigration Issues

Elizabeth Villafranca entered the limelight in 2006, as Farmers Branch began its illegal-immigrant battle that rages to this day. As we mentioned earlier this week, the Cuquitas co-owner has decided to run for city council in the FB. Unfair Park caught up with her yesterday for a Q&A -- during which she speaks not only about why she's running, but about the possibility of becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve in the position. Oh -- and she also mentions how her 9-year-old daughter may have caught on tape the contentious showdown between state Rep. Leo Berman and a Dallas immigration attorney Harry Joe.

When did you start considering a run?

People have been asking me for quite a long time, and I kept saying no. In last few months I've been getting lots of people coming to the restaurant saying, "Why don't you consider running?" I kept saying, "I don't know..." My husband and daughter kept saying, "You should really think about it." In the end, it seemed like a good opportunity for everybody: We don't only have a business there, we live there, and we really care about the community.

They're trying to pass this huge bond package ... People are losing their homes and jobs, and we're gonna raise people's taxes for a new water park? I don't think they're being good stewards of the people's money. I think I bring a new perspective -- not any of those on the council now actually own a business in Farmers Branch, so I don't think they have the perspective I have. It's a good opportunity for the city to see things in another light.

Could you talk about how efforts to ban illegal immigrants played a role in the process that led to your bid for office?

It wasn't really to do that much with the fact that it was undocumented people -- it was just the fact that it was an injustice. If it had been another injustice, I would have been there as well. For me, it was a huge spiritual thing: I was wasting my time reading the gospel if I wasn't willing to live it. At the end of the day this has nothing to do with immigration. Everything we said was going to happen is happening: The city is $3 million in debt, they had to fire people, people had to take early retirement, and for what? Everything is tied up in the courts, we already know this is gonna be deemed unconstitutional, we know immigration law is in the realm of the federal government.

Really, I shouldn't even have an opinion, because as a city councilwoman I wouldn't be involved in passing immigration legislation. It would be like if I decided we were going to ban abortion in Farmers Branch.

Well, that's largely true, but there are programs -- such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) -- that involve local governments.

Yes, but 287(g)is a federal program. We didn't invent it out of thin air. I'm frustrated about illegal immigration just as much as the next person, but that doesn't mean I have to go out and push some sort of flawed program that's sure to be ruled unconstitutional.

How do you feel about the the possibility, as first reported by the Associated Press, of becoming the first Hispanic council member in a city that's nearly half Hispanic?

I didn't ever ponder the thought, but yesterday some reporters asked me about being the first minority to serve on the council. It would be such an incredible honor for me to represent the diversity of the city, to be part of the representation of what the city of Farmers Branch really is.

Since we're on the topic, here's a question for some of our frequent Unfair Park commenters. Many of them complain that we in the media minimize the distinction between legal and illegal immigrant. They infer that as "law-breakers," illegal immigrants are completely different than legal immigrants. What's your take on that?

As far as I'm concerned, we are all God's children. Does that mean we as a city have the authority to pass immigration policy in Farmers Branch? Absolutely not. Does it mean everyone deserves to be an American? No, it's a privilege to be an American. We need to determine who can stay and who should go, but we need a reformed system and that's the feds' responsibility. We must continue to pressure Barack Obama. He made promises to the Hispanic community that he would pass comprehensive immigration reform, and so far, he's said little about it. This doesn't have anything to do with immigration, but everyone makes it about that.

What are the priorities you'd be most passionate about pursuing if you win? One you've mentioned is fiscal conservatism in light of the city's budget problems.

The primary priority is fiscal responsibility. We are in a huge financial crisis right now, and we need to make do with what we have. The council needs to be accountable in every respect. They promised the taxpayers the city's insurance would be paying for the lawsuits [against the ordinance banning illegal immigrants from apartment complexes]. This is not the case. They owe millions, and they don't have the money to pay it. The police have requested four new police cars, and two meetings ago the council was talking about how they couldn't afford them.

How does your family feel about your run?

My daughter is so funny. She made this really cool sign yesterday, and recently said, "I think I need to go shopping -- I think I should start wearing suits now for the campaign." She's learning so much. We had the opportunity to go to Austin recently, and she's doing a documentary. I think she got Leo Berman yelling at that guy to "get out of here!"

When did you move to Farmers Branch, and was it because you wanted to run for council?

We moved last May. Our house in North Dallas was on the market for quite a while. It sold right at that time and everything just fell in our lap. We wanted to move to Farmers Branch to be closer to the restaurant. Now I can come and go all day long -- before, it was a 20-minute drive. It's a one-story built in '69 with a huge backyard and cool neighbors. We love it.

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Megan Feldman
Contact: Megan Feldman