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Third Strike for a Texas City's Anti-Immigrant Laws

Farrin Anello,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU of New Jersey
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March 24, 2010

Today a federal court in Texas struck down yet another ill-conceived and unconstitutional anti-immigrant law. In response to a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed on behalf of residents of the City of Farmers Branch, Texas, Judge Jane J. Boyle permanently barred enforcement of this city’s latest anti-immigrant ordinance.

The challenged ordinance would have made it difficult for immigrants to rent homes, and would have burdened all renters and landlords. It would have required adults who live in rental housing to register with the city, pay a fee, and provide citizenship and immigration information in order to obtain a so-called “residential occupancy license.” All residents whom the local building inspector deemed “not lawfully present in the United States,” including people living with U.S. citizen children, spouses and parents, would have been denied the right to rent a home. Landlords whom the building inspector found to have run afoul of the Ordinance would have been barred from collecting rent payments.

In today’s decision, Judge Boyle held that the Ordinance is unconstitutional, because the United States Constitution makes immigration a federal, not a local, issue. Judge Boyle recognized, as other courts have held, that individual towns and cities are not permitted to effectively expel immigrants from their borders by denying them the right to rent a home.

Ordinance 2952 was Farmers Branch’s third attempt to restrict residency based on immigration status. The city withdrew its first ordinance in the face of legal challenges. The second — and today, the third — was struck down in court on constitutional grounds. In fact, no court has ever approved a local housing ordinance seeking to regulate immigrants.

By refusing to acknowledge the serious constitutional issues raised by Farmers Branch’s anti-immigrant ordinances despite the growing number of court decisions on this issue, the politicians who supported the ordinances have inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment in this city and have squandered taxpayers’ dollars. Farmers Branch has spent approximately $3.3 million defending its unconstitutional anti-immigrant ordinances, and even before the most recent court case, it was struggling to address a $1.2-million budget shortfall.

The plaintiffs’ victory in this case demonstrates once again that such misguided anti-immigrant laws are not only costly and divisive but also unconstitutional.

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