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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Farmers Branch Ordinances Become a Costly Controversy

Immigration reform has been thrust into the national spotlight and is the focus of much debate among presidential candidates. A small town in Texas made national headlines in May when it passed a city ordinance that prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. Thus began a public debate about the enforcement of immigration laws.

Purpose of the Ordinance

Mayor Pro Tem Tim O’Hare is a major advocate and the man behind the original ordinance and making English the “official” language of Farmers Branch, TX, which is leading the nation in local immigration policies.

O’Hare claims the purpose of the ordinance is “to ensure the safety of our community, the values of our homes, the quality of our schools and the ability to redevelop many of our retail areas that have been in decline for several years,” according to a letter from two councilmen persuading voters to vote for a similar ordinance, Ordinance 2903.

“These ordinances do nothing but divide community. The ordinances will not cure immigration problems,” said Elizabeth Villafranca, a local business owner and a volunteer that teaches illegal immigrants about their rights. “Immigration is at the federal level.”

Supporters of the ordinance cite the lack of federal regulation and border security enforcement as the cause for the city’s pursuit of such a measure. Immigration enforcement is currently under federal law. Illegal immigration is considered a civil offense.

O’Hare did not return phone calls for this article.

Lawsuits for Tax-Payers

Farmers Branch is being sued over a violation for the Texas Open-Meetings Act that discussed the first version of the controversial ordinance banning landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. Other suits have been filed against the city alleging another open-meeting violation and claims the ordinance is unconstitutional.

City officials hoped the case involving Ordinance 2892 would be dismissed because that particular ordinance had become void, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The case was not dismissed and the city is paying legal fees to defend itself.

“There are no estimates concerning the cost of losing lawsuits,” said City Manager Gary Greer. “The city is currently budgeting more than $400,000 per year to defend lawsuits associated with immigration issues. The city does not anticipate any further lawsuits, concerning this issue, at this time.”

Names and Addresses

On Sept. 11, Greer requested the names and addresses for children enrolled in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district living in the city, as instructed by the City Council.

Some members of the community have speculated the request might be in order to locate undocumented immigrants, said Villafranca.

“Difficult to know for sure,” said Villafranca, “but they can try to see how many surnames are in one house to enforce code against the landlords.”

Greer claims the city staff has no knowledge as to why the City Council requested the list.

According to O’Hare’s personal blog, there are multiple reasons why the city might want the information. The Web site lists reasons such as overcrowding in neighborhoods, identifying children which attend school but live out of the district, how many children attend public or private school, or for aid in discussions about charter or private schools for the area.

These reasons seem unlikely to local activists, and groups have formed to inform the community of their rights regarding the requests for their children’s personal information. Privacy forms are available for parents to fill out and stops inquiring parties from accessing information about their children, said Villafranca.

“Empowerment comes from education,” said Villafranca. “The more knowledge we have, it makes us more powerful.”

Enforcement Effects

Due to recent requests for personal information and the rise of programs like ICE, a program which works with federal authorities to identify undocumented immigrants, local Hispanics feel targeted.

South of Farmers Branch lies Irving, a culturally diverse town that has felt increased racial tension due to programs like ICE.

Driving down one of Irving’s main roads, the sides of the roads are flanked with signs and banners in English and Spanish. Mexican restaurants and shops make up a large portion of the area. It is difficult not to notice the cultural diversity.

After a warning from the Mexican consul general in Dallas to avoid Irving, local residents have become fearful and have stopped frequenting local businesses. Local businesses have felt the effects, according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle.

In Farmers Branch, additional questions have been raised by locals about artwork that was recently taken down from a local library cited depicting “frontal nudity or gore.”

The artist, Alex Trevino, is a Mexican-American. He titled his work “Clash of Cultures.” In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Mr. Trevino claims his work expresses his own experiences with racism and the local political arena in Farmers Branch.

Greer claims the artwork was taken down due to the many children which frequent that part of the library each week.

“Additionally, when I made the decision to take down several pieces of the collection,” said Greer, “I was unaware of the artist’s name, race or name of the exhibit.”

Local Action

Due to the recent targeting of illegal immigrants, social change is in the air. Local activists for both sides of the debate have become vocal and created a new political arena for the debate.

Greer has witnessed a change in local politics.

“The community of Farmers Branch is very involved in the political process,” Greer said.

Villafranca says she’s never been active in politics before. She sees the need to help others after witnessing recent events in the community and plans to stay engaged in the political process.

“These people [undocumented immigrants] are the invisible people and nobody seems to care about them,” Villafranca says. “They deserve the same dignity and respect as all of us.”

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