Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dallas suburb sued over anti-immigration lawANABELLE GARAY
Associated Press
DALLAS - Two civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a suburb's new law that outlaws renting to illegal immigrants, alleging the ordinance violates federal law and forces landlords to act as immigration officers.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the suit on behalf of Farmers Branch residents and landlords.

The law, along with a measure that made English the official language of the city, was passed in November and is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 12.

The lawsuit claims the ordinance is so poorly drafted that it excludes even legal immigrants from renting in the city just north of Dallas.

"Immigration enforcement must be left to the federal government, not each local municipality," said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas. "Otherwise Texas will end up with a patchwork system that is impractical and unenforceable."

Farmers Branch spokesman Tom Bryson said the city will not comment on pending litigation. City leaders had expected legal challenges like the one filed Tuesday, which is the third brought against the city since the ordinance passed.

"I don't know if there is any real expectation of what would be coming down the pipe and what wouldn't," Bryson said.

On Friday, three apartment complexes filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to halt the renter law from going into effect, saying it should be declared unconstitutional.

In November, City Council members unanimously approved having property managers or owners verify the immigration or citizenship status of apartment renters. Council members also approved resolutions making English the city's official language and allowing local authorities to become part of a federal program so they can enforce immigration laws.

In another lawsuit filed this month, a Farmers Branch resident alleged that the city's mayor repeatedly violated the state's open meetings laws to deliberate the ordinances.

Opponents of the ordinances have also submitted a petition that they hope will force a vote on the measures. If at the city verifies at least 726 of the signatures, a public vote is expected in May.

Since 1970, Farmers Branch has changed from a small, predominantly white bedroom community with a declining population to a city of almost 28,000 people, about 37 percent of them Hispanic, according to the census. It also is home to more than 80 corporate headquarters and more than 2,600 small and mid-size firms, many of them minority-owned.

More than 50 municipalities nationwide have considered, passed or rejected similar laws, but until now that trend hasn't been matched in the Lone Star State.