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The Law and Farmers Branch

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Last week the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the City of Farmers Branch, located northwest of Dallas, which sought to pass an immigration enforcement ordinance that would have prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants who were deemed unlawfully present and authorized arrest and prosecution of landlords and tenants found in violation of the law.

This lawsuit dates back to 2006, when the city passed housing ordinances designed to prevent undocumented immigrants from being able to rent apartment or homes. The purpose was to drive immigrants from the city by making life as difficult as possible, according to the Immigration Prof Blog, to which I am indebted for this report:

In a 9-5 ruling, an en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down the ordinance, which would have prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants who were deemed unlawfully present and authorized arrest and prosecution of landlords and tenants in violation of the law. A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit had previously struck down the ordinance before the Court granted en banc review.

Under the ordinance, all prospective renters would have been required to provide information about their immigration status and obtain a rental license from the city building inspector, who would be responsible for determining immigration status. The ordinance was never allowed to take effect, as federal courts have blocked its implementation before it reached the en banc Fifth Circuit.

Beginning in 2006, the City of Farmers Branch, Texas passed a series of housing ordinances designed to prevent undocumented immigrants from being able to rent apartments or homes. The ordinances were part of an effort to drive immigrants from the city by making life as difficult as possible. Each of the ordinances has been blocked by the federal courts as the result of litigation brought by The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Texas.

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One has to wonder why the leaders of Farmers Branch were so determined to pursue a lawsuit that had little chance to be successful and would likely cost the city millions of dollars to pursue. By the time the case was heard by the en banc panel, the U.S. Supreme Court had already invalidated Arizona’s attempt to regulate immigration in Senate Bill 1070, and a panel of the Fifth Circuit had previously struck down the Farmers Branch ordinance that would have prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants who were deemed unlawfully present and authorized arrest and prosecution of landlords and tenants found in violation of the law.
 
Under the ordinance, all prospective renters would have been required to provide information about their immigration status and obtain a rental license from the city building inspector, who would be responsible for determining immigration status. The ordinance was never allowed to take effect, as federal courts have blocked its implementation before it reached the en banc Fifth Circuit.

In its ruling, the court said the Farmers Branch ordinance was unconstitutional because it conflicted with federal immigration law. The court based its holding on guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 invalidating provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070. The Fifth Circuit emphasized that allowing city “officers to arrest an individual whom they believe to be not lawfully present would allow the [city] to achieve its own immigration policy and could be unnecessary harassment of some aliens … whom federal officials determine should not be removed.”

As an opinion concurring in the decision noted, because the “purpose and effect” of the ordinance was “the exclusion of Latinos from the city of Farmers Branch,” “legislation of [this] type is not entitled to wear the cloak of constitutionality.”

A personal comment: I am astonished that five justices on a U.S. Court of Appeals could find that the ordinance is constitutional.

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