Judge halts rental ban against illegal immigrants
FARMERS BRANCH, Texas- A federal judge Monday blocked enforcement of a voter-endorsed ordinance preventing apartment rentals to most illegal immigrants in this Dallas suburb.The ordinance was to take effect Tuesday, more than a week after voters approved it. Opponents had filed three requests in federal court for an injunction to stop its enforcement.The ordinance requires managers to verify that renters are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants before leasing to them, with some exceptions. Violators face fines of up to $500, and each day would be considered a separate violation.Only the federal government can determine whether a person is in the United States legally, wrote U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay.Instead of deferring to federal officials, Farmers Branch has created its own classification to determine which noncitizens may rent an apartment, the judge ruled.Lindsay also wrote that the city appeared to have used federal regulations on housing benefits for noncitizens to define who may rent an apartment in the city.”The court recognizes that illegal immigration is a major problem in this country, and one who asserts otherwise ignores reality,” Lindsay wrote. “The court also fully understands the frustration of cities attempting to address a national problem that the federal government should handle; however, such frustration, no matter how great, cannot serve as a basis to pass an ordinance that conflicts with federal law.”Said William A. Brewer III, who represents several several apartment complexes suing Farmers Branch over the regulation: “This is important guidance for other communities and others effected by this.”A call for comment from Farmers Branch Councilman Tim O’Hare, the ordinance’s lead proponent, wasn’t immediately returned.Attorney Matthew Boyle, who represents Farmers Branch, said that regardless of the judge’s decision, there is still plenty of work left on the case. He declined to elaborate.Also Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed in Dallas on behalf of three Latino voters who live in Farmers Branch.The lawsuit seeks the creation of single-member districts, in which a city council member is elected to represent a specific section. Both large and small cities with diverse racial makeup use the system, said Rolando Rios, the attorney leading the suit.Activists say that if the method had been in place, at least one Latino candidate would have been elected to the council and could represent the group. All five council members are white men.Since 1970, Farmers Branch has changed from a small, predominantly white community with a declining population to a city of almost 28,000 people, about 37 percent Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.The city had not been served with the lawsuit, said Farmers Branch spokesman Tom Bryson.Another lawsuit brought by a real estate broker was filed in state court, alleging that Farmers Branch officials violated the state’s open meetings law when they approved the ordinance in November.Boyle said he could not comment on the lawsuit.
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