Farmers Branch will appeal decision striking down rental ordinance

Farmers Branch apartments

Credit: WFAA-TV

The Farmers Branch ordinance required tenants to prove U.S. citizenship.

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by DIANNE SOLÍS

The Dallas Morning News

Posted on April 21, 2010 at 1:16 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 21 at 1:21 AM

FARMERS BRANCH — The Farmers Branch City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to appeal a federal court ruling that its renters ordinance targeting illegal immigrants is unconstitutional.

The move places the city of 27,000 firmly within a strategy in which cities and states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, attempt to regulate illegal immigration and challenge court rulings that affirm the enforcement of federal immigration laws falls to the federal government.

The city will appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"This is considered a very conservative court of appeals, and that bodes well for us," said City Council member David Koch, who said support for a continued fight ran 2-to-1 among Farmers Branch residents who contacted him.

Council chambers were packed with residents, including two plaintiffs involved in the federal suit and a related state suit challenging the crafting of one ordinance as a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

"If you thought in 2008 that I would sit back quietly, you were badly mistaken," said Junie Smith, a plaintiff and former council member.

After the meeting, Smith said she looked forward to the "adventure" of further litigation and reading legal briefs.

Others took a caustic view of illegal immigration, linking it to declining property values and rising crime and suggesting that drug violence at the Texas border might spill north.

"I would like to not see our country invaded," said Susan Davis, who was born in Brazil of a U.S. citizen father and a Brazilian mother.

Rick Johnson said workers in the U.S. unlawfully should be forced to exit, in part, because U.S. workers need the jobs.

"How many people could be working if we didn't have illegal immigrants out there taking jobs?" he asked.

The fight in Farmers Branch is one that benefits Texas and the nation, he said.

The financing of the legal fight worried others.

Brenda Brodrick, who is running for City Council, said she was opposed to the ordinance because "citizens are against the spending."

Michael Jung, an attorney with the Strasburger law firm employed as outside counsel, told the council that an appeal could cost $100,000 to $150,000.

Moreover, Jung said, the city had "good, legal grounds for appeal." After the meeting, Jung said a portion of the Immigration and Naturalization Act dealing with harboring those in the U.S. unlawfully was a specific point of vigorous legal scrutiny in an appeal.

In the past, Farmers Branch politicians have said they made the move locally in the absence of federal enforcement of immigration laws.

Tuesday night's vote comes as the legal costs climb on immigration legal matters. The city has spent about $3.2 million and has set aside about $623,000 for the rest of the year.

After the March 25 ruling by a federal court judge in Dallas, one of two legal teams submitted a bill of $850,000 to the federal court. A second bill of a similar sum is expected at the end of April. The legal sum by the end of the fiscal year could exceed $5 million since September 2006.

In the March ruling, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle ruled that the ordinance was an attempt to enforce U.S. immigration laws – something the judge said only the federal government can do.

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