Tuesday, November 14, 2006

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas — City Council members Monday night unanimously passed ordinances they hope will curtail illegal aliens, but said they expected the new laws to be fought in court.

Hundreds were turned away from City Hall, and the council chamber itself was filled to legal occupancy as the city leaders passed the strictest set of ordinances against illegal entry in any Texas city.

Specifically, the 6-0 votes authorized fines for property owners who rent to illegal aliens and designated English as the official language — a move designed to end printing and the conduct of city business in both English and Spanish.

Also passed was an ordinance authorizing city police to enter into an agreement with federal immigration officials to target criminal aliens. Opponents, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), vowed to file a lawsuit.

“We are here not only to say that these ordinances violate federal law, but that these ordinances drive unnecessary tension in the city,” said Marisol Perez, a MALDEF staff lawyer.

LULAC member Carlos Quintanilla said: “You can’t promote Farmers Branch as a great city when you are denying people to live in apartments, when you are denying children the right to speak their language.”

Mr. Perez said that forcing landlords to determine whether a person seeking to rent an apartment is an illegal alien makes the property owner “wear the shoes of an immigration officer. It’s a very difficult position.”

Council member Tim O’Hare, a trial lawyer who has been pushing hard for approval of the ordinance, said the city expects to be sued.

Mr. O’Hare, who was cheered by the mostly white citizens who agreed with him, said after the vote that the measures adopted would benefit all those who live in the small city just north of Dallas — those he said, “who are legal citizens.”

One originally proposed crackdown didn’t make it to the table — fining business owners who hire illegal aliens.

“Why not make business owners pay if they hire aliens?” read one sign at the council meeting.

“Guess they got some real heat over that one,” groused Emmett G. Smith, who said he had lived in Farmers Branch for 61 years.

In the past three decades, Farmers Branch has grown from a sleepy community of a few thousand mostly white citizens to more than 28,000, 37 percent of whom are Hispanic. More than 75 corporate headquarters are located here, many of them minority-owned.

More than four dozen communities nationwide have considered or plan to consider similar legislation. An even more stringent set of ordinances was passed earlier this year in Hazelton, Pa., with restrictions and fines against landlords who rent to illegal aliens and the denial of business permits to those who hire illegal aliens.

A federal court restraining order temporarily has blocked enforcement there after legal filings from the ACLU and the Puerto Rican LegalDefense and Education Fund.

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