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An immigration end-run in Texas

The town of Farmers Branch uses a housing ordinance to regulate immigration. That's wrong.

August 07, 2012
  • Elected officials in Farmers Branch, Texas, have spent four years defending an ordinance that bars landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. Above: The Annunciation House for migrants and exiles in El Paso, Texas, a few yards across the border from Ciudad Juarez.
Elected officials in Farmers Branch, Texas, have spent four years defending… (Los Angeles Times )

Elected officials in Farmers Branch, Texas, deserve credit for their perseverance. They have spent four years and more than $4 million defending a misguided ordinance that bars landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. Court after court has struck down the law as an unconstitutional intrusion into the federal government's sole authority to regulate immigration. Still, city officials persist, arguing that the law is merely an attempt to regulate housing, not to target immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Now the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rehear the city's appeal after a split three-judge panel blocked the ordinance. Deferring to theU.S. Supreme Courtruling in June that struck down most of Arizona's notorious immigration law, the 5th Circuit should make clear once and for all that the ordinance in Farmers Branch and others like it are illegal encroachments on the federal government's power to set immigration policy. Worse yet, they promote vigilantism.

Farmers Branch's law requires that city officials provide renters with an occupancy license after verifying that they are in the country legally, and makes it a crime for a landlord to rent housing to anyone who does not have a license. That's not an attempt to regulate housing; it's plainly and purely an attempt to regulate immigration. The real goal of Farmers Branch officials is simple: to drive out illegal immigrants by making it impossible for them to find a place to live. That's not particularly different from the underlying goal of Arizona's immigration law, which sought "attrition through enforcement" by making the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants so difficult that they would flee the state.

State officials may be frustrated with the federal government's failure to address the issue of illegal immigration in a serious way, but that doesn't mean states and cities can enact their own immigration laws. The Supreme Court has already ruled that such efforts, even if simply aimed at cooperating with federal authorities, are unconstitutional because they "preempt" the government's rightful role. The 5th Circuit should use the road map provided by the high court and strike down the Farmers Branch law.

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