Voters In Dallas Suburb Are First In Nation To Take Over Decision On Immigration Ordinance

Saturday, May 12th 2007, 9:49 pm
By: News On 6

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas (AP) _ Residents cast ballots Saturday on whether to repeal or approve a ban on landlords renting apartments to most illegal immigrants in their Dallas suburb, the nation's first municipality to put the matter to a vote.

The ban was being approved by a 3-to-1 margin as early votes were counted.

Since the City Council approved the ordinance in November, Farmers Branch has become the site of protests and angry confrontations.

``The thing that strikes me most about it, is just the level of emotion, the level of frustration regarding the whole immigration issue,'' said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

More than 90 local governments around the nation have proposed similar measures.

The regulation facing voters Saturday requires apartment managers to verify that renters are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants before leasing to them. Minors and people 62 and over are exempt from having to prove their immigration status or citizenship. Families that include both citizens and illegal immigrants could lease if they meet certain conditions.

If voters approve the ban, opponents planned to seek a restraining order to stop the city from enforcing it and try to get the case to trial.

Council members accepted comment from the public only after their vote in November, saying the federal government has failed to address illegal immigration. Councilman Tim O'Hare, the ordinance's lead proponent, contends the city's economy and quality of life will improve if illegal immigrants are kept out.

The council revised the ordinance in January to include the exemptions for minors, seniors and some mixed-status families.

However, opponents of the regulation gathered enough signatures to force the city to put the measure on the municipal election ballot.

The city was already facing four lawsuits brought by civil rights groups, residents, property owners and businesses who contend the ordinance discriminates and that it places landlords in the precarious position of acting as federal immigration officers. Their attorneys say the ordinance attempts to regulate immigration, a duty that is exclusively the federal government's. One lawsuit also alleges the council violated the state open meetings act when deciding on the ordinance.

Local proposals aimed at regulating illegal immigration often fail to pass constitutional muster, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute office at New York University School of Law.

``There is significant frustration, so that's what's driving it,'' Chishti said. ``But the simple fact is they cannot do too much other than impress upon the Congress the need for immigration reform.''