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Texas City Ends Lengthy Battle on Immigrant Rental Ban

Immigrant Rental Ban

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas— After seven years of legal battles over banning undocumented immigrants from rental housing, the City of Farmers Branch, Texas, has decided to settle with plaintiffs and abandon the ordinance. The city council voted unanimously to pay $1.4 million to the attorneys who fought the divisive effort. Previously, Farmers Branch had spent more than $6 million defending the ordinance, which was never enforced.

The ordinance, originally adopted in 2006, would have required all prospective tenants to prove their legal status in the United States as part of obtaining a $5 residential occupancy license. Both residents and property owners/managers who violated the ordinance would have faced class C misdemeanor charges. Lawsuits challenging the Farmers Branch ordinance on procedural grounds and constitutional grounds began almost immediately after its passage.

The ordinance was ruled unconstitutional at every level, including the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2013, the city council voted to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In March, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, letting the lower court’s ruling stand and effectively ending the fight. Opponents of the ordinance said they hope that this serves as a “cautionary tale” to other cities thinking of pursuing similar measures.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Farmers Branch appeal echoes its decision regarding the Lozano v. Hazleton case earlier this year. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a similar rental housing ordinance in Hazleton, Pa., unconstitutional in 2013, a ruling that seems to stand with the Supreme Court’s actions. However, this year the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar ordinance passed in Fremont, Neb. The Mexican-American Legal Defense fund has appealed that case to the Supreme Court. The 8th Circuit is the first to uphold a rental housing ban on undocumented immigrants; therefore it is unknown whether the Supreme Court will decline to hear the case or take it up to reassert federal immigration authority.

Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Fremont Tribune