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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Texas City Can’t Exclude|Immigrants From Renting

DALLAS (CN) - Banning undocumented immigrants from renting housing in a Dallas suburb is illegal and interferes with federal authority on immigration and foreign affairs, the 5th Circuit ruled.

In 2008, Farmers Branch, Texas, had passed a law that required all adults living in rental housing in the city to obtain an occupancy license based on their immigration status.

After tenants and landlords filed suit, U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle ruled in 2010 that the law was unconstitutional.

The New Orleans-based federal appeals court affirmed Wednesday, concluding that the city had exceeded its authority and adopted an impermissible regulation of immigration.

Landlords say that if they allowed illegal immigrants to stay in violation of the law, they would be putting their rental licenses in danger.

"The ordinance's sole purpose is not to regulate housing but to exclude undocumented aliens, specifically Latinos, from the city of Farmers Branch and that it is an impermissible regulation of immigration," Judge Thomas Reavley wrote for a three-judge panel. "We hold that the ordinance is unconstitutional and presents an obstacle to federal authority on immigration and the conduct of foreign affairs."

By directly addressing the presence of immigrants in the city's borders, and effectively forcing noncitizens to relocate, the law regulates immigration "across and outside" of the city, according to the decision.

"Moreover, as the District Court held, the ordinance imposes additional ordinances on aliens not contemplated by Congress," Reavley wrote. "For example, the ordinance requires illegal aliens to declare themselves to the city building inspector, denies them the ability to enter into private contracts for shelter, and subjects them to criminal sanctions, all in an effort to exclude them from the city. Because states lack the constitutional power of the federal government when it comes to immigration, however, the ordinance may 'neither add to nor take from the conditions lawfully imposed by Congress upon admission, naturalization, and residence of aliens in the United States or the several states.'"

A law with no purpose other than the exclusion of illegal aliens only complicates immigration issues and relations with other countries, particularly Mexico, the court found. Reavley pointed to growing litigation in the federal courts over similar laws in a city in Pennsylvania and the states of Arizona and Alabama as examples.

"This increasing treatment - some might say mistreatment - of illegal immigrants across the country only reinforces what the Supreme Court has said in explaining why a national policy on immigration unimpeded by the whims of the various states is paramount," he wrote.

William Brewer of Bickel and Brewer in Dallas represented the plaintiffs: the Villas at Parkside, Lakeview at Parkside, Chateau de Ville and Farmers Branch resident Mary Smith.

"This decision sends an important message not only to the city of Farmers Branch, but to any other municipality that would consider adopting such a pernicious ordinance," Brewer said in a statement. "This is a defining moment for those who appreciate that immigration is the province of the federal government."

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