Farmers Branch, Texas Anti-Immigrant Ordinance Is Blocked While Challenge Continues

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
September 22, 2008 12:00 am

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DALLAS – City officials in Farmers Branch, Texas today agreed not to fight a request from residents to block the city’s latest anti-immigrant ordinance from taking effect while a legal challenge continues. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a request in federal court on the residents’ behalf for a preliminary injunction blocking the ordinance. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas is expected to enter the injunction today.

The challenged ordinance, Ordinance 2952, is the city’s third attempt at restricting residency based on immigration status. It would require all adults in the city who live in rental housing to register with the city and provide citizenship and immigration information in order to obtain a so-called “residential occupancy license.” Under the ordinance, landlords would have to evict all residents who the city deems “not lawfully present in the United States,” including people living with U.S. citizen children, spouses and parents. The civil rights groups charge that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution, federal and state statutes and is discriminatory.

At an earlier hearing on Friday, September 12, U.S. District Court Judge Jane J. Boyle temporarily blocked the ordinance.

“The city saw which way the wind was blowing. It’s highly unlikely that the court will uphold this discriminatory law and the city decided to give up this part of their losing battle,” said Nina Perales, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF. “We are confident that the order blocking the ordinance will be made permanent should this case proceed to trial. Immigration reform is a federal responsibility and local anti-immigrant ordinances only hurt city economies and community relations.”

The city’s anti-immigrant ordinances have been defeated over and over again in the courts. The city withdrew its first ordinance in the face of multiple lawsuits by business and civil rights groups. The second ordinance was temporarily, preliminarily and then permanently blocked by U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay of the Northern District of Texas. When it became clear that the second ordinance was doomed, the city passed Ordinance 2952, which Judge Lindsay observed was “yet another attempt to circumvent the court’s prior rulings and further an agenda that runs afoul of the United States Constitution.” Judge Boyle’s September 12 ruling was the fourth federal court order to block the city’s anti-immigrant ordinances, and today’s preliminary injunction is the fifth.

“The politicians who support this ordinance and their advisors from national anti-immigrant organizations seem to regard this as some sort of game, even though the laws they have invented are terribly serious and have real consequences for the city and its residents. But it’s time for them to realize that they’ve long since struck out,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

“Every court in the country that has reviewed these local anti-immigrant housing ordinances has put a stop to them,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. “Farmers Branch has taken the curious approach of recreating their ordinance to be even more intrusive and offensive, to the point of subjecting everyone to an intrusive, Big Brother-like licensing regime. The city has lost sight not only of the law, but of common sense, in this case.”

Attorneys who are working on the case include Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag, Jennifer Chang Newell and Farrin Anello of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Graybill of the ACLU of Texas; Perales and Marisol L. Perez of MALDEF; and David Broiles.

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