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Texas Town’s Anti-Immigrant Law Dealt a Blow by Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals

file000495587744.jpgThe town of Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas, has fought for seven years to enforce an ordinance which requires all renters to obtain a city license. In the latest legal proceeding, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it usurped the authority of the federal government. This latest defeat could spell the end of the law unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to provide a final word.

As an immigration attorney in Austin, I am always interested in the standing of laws regarding immigrants. The U.S. legal system permits these laws to be enacted, but many of them fail to remain on the books following a legal challenge. In the case of Farmers Branch, I am curious to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will offer to take up the case.

Farmers Branch first passed a similar law in 2006 which gained national attention. As the first city in Texas to pass anti-immigration laws, Farmers Branch passed several ordinances that included screening illegal aliens in custody, formally recognizing English as the official city language, and fining landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants. The renter’s law was passed in a referendum with 68 percent of the vote, but the Northern Texas U.S. District Court halted enforcement prior to the law going into effect. The ordinance was then changed to require renters to purchase a $5 license which would entail disclosure of legal status.

Farmers Branch is a small community of almost 30,000 residents, of which almost 45 percent are Latino. The city has spent almost $6 million in legal battles regarding the renter’s ordinance, and it could be asked to spend even more if the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case. The mayor of Farmers Branch Tim O’Hare who authored the original bill has publicly pledged to pursue the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based its ruling on the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070. In the Arizona case, the high court struck down key provisions within the law which conflicted with federal authority. The Supreme Court reserved enforcement of immigration laws for federal law enforcement officials.

Other courts have issued differing opinions on similar laws. In 2010, voters in Fremont, Nebraska approved a law which required renters to prove they were in the country legally. While a district court struck down the law, on appeal, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. This conflict between the decisions of the Eight and Fifth Courts of Appeals has supported speculation that the Supreme Court could step in to resolve the issue.

As an immigration attorney in Texas, I am especially curious to see how this case is resolved. Although it appears unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this particular case, the doubt created by the two conflicting decisions could spawn similar laws throughout the country.

Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC is an Austin based firm specializing in immigration and family law. If you would like to discuss your case with experience attorney, please contact us at (512) 215-5225.