Taxpayer-Funded Bigotry: Farmers Branch Anti-Immigrant Ordinance Appealed to SCOTUS

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Farmers Branch just can't seem to keep itself out of the news, and unfortunately again it's for all of the wrong reasons.

The small city in northwest Dallas County became famous for a discriminatory anti-immigrant ordinance passed in 2006 that fined landlords who rented to undocumented individuals. The legislation by the all-Anglo council was viewed a response to the tremendous growth in the Hispanic population in the community of 28,000 residents, and has since been tied up in the courts and cost the city over $6 million in legal fees.

However, due to the Hispanic population growth, the city's all-at-large council system was found to violate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which resulted in the Department of Justice forcing Farmers Branch to adopt single member districts. This past May, historic progress was made when Ana Reyes was elected in District 1, becoming the first Hispanic resident on the council.

Unfortunately the progressive momentum has been stalled somewhat, as the City Council voted 3-2 to appeal the anti-immigrant ordinance to the Supreme Court.

Read more on the lawsuit, as well as Farmers Branch Council Member Ana Reyes' statement on the vote, below the jump.In 2006, the Farmers Branch council became the first in Texas to pass an ordinance that fined landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants, allowed police to check immigration status, and mandated English as the official language of the city. The ordinance was the work of then-Council Member Tim O'Hare, who panicked over what he described as an influx of “less desirable people,” i.e. Hispanic residents. The ordinance was put up for a vote, but 68% of those who cast a ballot supported the anti-immigrant referendum.

Thus began the lengthy, multi-million dollar legal battle that the Farmers Branch City Council voted to continue last week.

If these Farmers Branch residents can see the handwriting on the wall, it's clear they can't read what it's saying.

To date, the small community of Farmers Branch — all 28,000 residents — has spent $6 million in legal costs to defend their ordinance in court. That's a lot of tax revenue that could go to other worthwhile causes.

It's unconscionable that the Council persists in litigated an ordinance rooted in naked bigotry.

The outside attorney for the city council has agreed to handle the appeal at no cost. The city has already racked up $4 million in legal fees and $2 million in bills from legal firms that prevailed against the city.

As the Dallas Morning News reports, “the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans found the ordinance to be unconstitutional and superseded by federal immigration law. The city has lost every challenge to the ordinance in federal court in Dallas and at the appeal level.”

Last week, the council voted 3-2 to appeal the 5th Circuit decision to the US Supreme Court. Council members Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally voted against the appeal. Members Jeff Fuller, Ben Robinson and Harold Froehlich voted for it. It is unclear if the SCOTUS will take the case, as they usually take only 100-150 cases per year.

Council Member Ana Reyes released the following statement on the vote:

“It has been determined by the full U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative federal appellate courts in the country, that this anti-immigrant rental ordinance is unconstitutional.  After seven years and millions of tax dollars, the Farmers Branch City Council had an opportunity to put an end to this.  I am extremely disappointed with the outcome and I know that ultimately, members of this Council failed our community tonight.”

The ordinance is unconstitutional, and it's also mean-spirited and hateful, and I'm stunned that a majority of Farmers Branch residents and their council want to be known for advancing xenophobia. Hatred is not a Texas value.

It's important to connect this fight to the larger post-Section 4 era in which the Voting Rights Act cannot currently be enforced in states such as Texas that have a clear history of discrimination.

The VRA is why Farmers Branch was forced to adopt a single member district system. The SCOTUS vote to overturn Section 4 is why Pasadena is currently trying to impose a controversial mid-decade redistricting scheme to take away 2 districts seats. These stories are connected by the shared desire by conservatives to limit minority voices and protect the power of an ever-shrinking white minority in an increasingly pluralistic society. They're also further evidence why Democrats and progressives must get organized and win races up and down the ballot, especially at the local level.

Above all, these efforts by conservatives to enshrine bigotry in our laws at the local level demonstrate how out-of-touch the far-right Republican Party is in a changing Texas. Conservatives push forward these efforts because they expect to feel no electoral consequence from the negatively impacted minority voters — many of whom are further disenfranchised by Voter ID laws and intentionally discriminatory barriers to voting.

Time is not on the side of the bigots and those who seek to disenfranchise and deny rights of others. The fact remains that those who preach hate seemed determined to learn this the hard way.  


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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