Judge strikes down Farmers Branch rental ordinance

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by Associated Press

wfaa.com

Posted on March 24, 2010 at 4:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 24 at 9:41 PM

DALLAS (AP) — A Farmers Branch ordinance banning illegal immigrants from renting apartments is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The Dallas suburb has tried for years to enforce a ban on landlords renting to illegal immigrants and a similar ordinance had been struck down before.

U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle of Dallas ruled the ordinance was an attempt to enforce U.S. immigration laws, which she said was something only the federal government can do.

"Ordinance 2952 is a regulation of immigration and is pre-empted by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution because the authority to regulate immigration is exclusively a federal power," Boyle wrote.

She issued a permanent injunction that the city be prohibited from enforcing the ordinance.

Mayor Tim O'Hare, a supporter of the ordinance, told The Dallas Morning News he is in favor of appealing the ruling, but said the City Council must vote on that. He did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press Wednesday afternoon.

"The American people are tired of judges legislating from the bench," he told the newspaper.

Farmers Branch spokesman Barry Pound told the AP the City Council will "consult with the legal team and determine the basis for any appeal."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of apartment owners and tenants.

"The ruling is consistent with court decisions around the country striking down anti-immigrant rental ordinances," said Nina Perales, southwest regional counsel for MALDEF, which represented apartment tenants. "There has been no case upholding one of these types of ordinances in the whole country. We hope that farmers branch stops throwing money away on misguided ordinances."

The Morning News reports that Farmers Branch has spent about $3.3 million fighting lawsuits challenging its efforts over the years.

The original ordinance was repealed and replaced by a redrafted one after being met with lawsuits and protests. The second attempt was challenged in court as well, with a federal judge eventually ruling it unconstitutional.

Perales said Wednesday' ruling addressed the city's third attempt.

"This is a case of three strikes and you're out," she said.

The latest version of the ordinance would have required prospective tenants of houses or apartments to get rental licenses. The city building inspector would verify with the federal government whether those who are not U.S. citizens have a legal presence in the country. Anyone deemed an illegal immigrant would be banned from leasing.

Plaintiffs attorney Bill Brewer of Dallas said apartment owners were particularly burdened by the latest ordinance.

"Learning to live together cooperatively, in harmony, is in the best interest of our state," Brewer said.

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