Immigrant Renting Law Nixed by Full 5th Circuit

     (CN) - A Dallas suburb cannot require home renters to obtain a license validating their legal immigration status, the 5th Circuit ruled, citing a conflict with federal immigration law.
     In 2008, the city of Farmers Branch, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, passed an ordinance forbidding illegal immigrants, or people "not lawfully present in the United States," from renting housing in the city.
     The ordinance requires individuals to obtain a license before occupying a rental apartment or single-family residence. For noncitizens, the city's building inspector must verify "with the federal government whether the occupant is an alien lawfully present in the United States."
     The law criminalizes knowingly permitting an occupant to live in a rental apartment without a valid license. Violation of the law is a class C criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 for each day of violation and suspension of the landlord's rental license.
     In a federal complaint, landlords and tenants challenged the ordinance as an improper regulation of immigration, pre-empted by federal law.
     The District Court found for the plaintiffs and ruled that the ordinance "applies federal immigration classifications for purposes not authorized or contemplated by federal law." It called the law an obstacle to federal means of "removing aliens or adjudicating their status for that purpose."
     After a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit affirmed in March 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved another set of tough immigration laws in Arizona v. United States.
     The New Orleans-based federal appeals court agreed to rehear the consolidated Farmers Branch case en banc and again affirmed Monday, rejecting the city's argument that the ordinance establishes "concurrent enforcement" of federal immigration law.
     "Farmers Branch's establishment of new criminal offenses based on the housing of non-citizens 'disrupt[s] the federal [immigration] framework,' both by interfering with
     federal anti-harboring law and by allowing state officers to 'hold[] aliens in custody for possible unlawful presence without federal direction and supervision,'" Judge Stephen Higginson wrote for the majority.
     In its June 2012 decision on Arizona's law, the high court said, "as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States."
     Citing this ruling, Higgenson said: "Persons who remain here while removable are not necessarily evading federal detection; in fact, federal law not only contemplates a non-citizen's residence in the United States until potential deportation, but also requires the non-citizen to provide a reliable address to the federal government to guarantee and speed the removal process ... Farmers Branch's prohibition on renting to non-citizens here contrary to law thus not only fails to facilitate, but obstructs the goal of bringing potentially removable noncitizens to the attention of the federal authorities."
     Farmers Branch's law improperly gives state officials authority to act as immigration officers outside the circumstances described by federal law and criminalizes conduct "that does not have the effect of evading federal detection," the court concluded.