THE FULL FIFTH CIRCUIT COURT STRIKES DOWN DISCRIMINATORY, ANTI-IMMIGRANT ORDINANCE IN FARMERS BRANCH, TEXAS
NEW ORLEANS, LA -In a 9-5 ruling issued Monday, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down an anti-immigrant, discriminatory ordinance in Farmers Branch, Texas that would have prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants that the city deemed unlawfully present and authorized arrest and prosecution of landlords and tenants found in violation of the law. Under the ordinance, all prospective renters would have been required to provide information about their immigration status and obtain a rental license from the city building inspector, who would be responsible for determining immigration status.
The ordinance was never allowed to take effect, as federal courts have blocked its implementation before it reached the en banc Fifth Circuit.
"The en banc court got it right in concluding that this inhumane and wasteful ordinance is unconstitutionally inconsistent with the federal immigration enforcement scheme," said Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF. "Other cities that may be considering similar laws should take note of this important outcome."
Beginning in 2006, the City of Farmers Branch, Texas passed a series of housing ordinances designed to prevent undocumented immigrants from being able to rent apartments or homes. The ordinances were part of an effort to drive immigrants from the city by making life as difficult as possible. Each of the ordinances has been blocked by the federal courts as the result of litigation brought by MALDEF, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Texas.
“By an overwhelming margin, the judges of the Fifth Circuit properly ruled that Famers Branch’s anti-immigrant housing ordinance is fundamentally unconstitutional,” said Omar Jadwat, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Their ruling will stop immigrants and people of color from being investigated and declared unwelcome by their own municipal government. This law now joins many others that have been discredited and abandoned to history’s scrapheap through a series of court rulings.”
In its ruling, the court said the Farmers Branch ordinance was unconstitutional because it conflicted with federal immigration law. The court based its holding on guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 invalidating provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070. The Fifth Circuit emphasized that allowing city “officers to arrest an individual whom they believe to be not lawfully present would allow the [city] to achieve its own immigration policy and could be unnecessary harassment of some aliens … whom federal officials determine should not be removed.” As an opinion concurring in the decision noted, because the “purpose and effect” of the ordinance was “the exclusion of Latinos from the city of Farmers Branch,” “legislation of [this] type is not entitled to wear the cloak of constitutionality.” Nine judges held the ordinance unconstitutional, while only five judges would have upheld it.
"A strong majority of the court rejected the city's attempt to create its own immigration laws because they conflicted with federal law," stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President for Litigation and the attorney who argued the case before the en banc court. "Hopefully the city will move past these malicious measures that have cost too much in resources and undermined good will among residents," continued Perales.
“All of Texas benefits from the contributions of immigrants who live and work in our state,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, Legal and Policy Director of the ACLU of Texas. “We fervently hope that this case marks the end of the anti-immigrant laws that target our friends, our neighbors and our family members for harsh treatment.”
Attorneys who are working on the case include Nina Perales, Marisa Bono, and Thomas A. Saenz of MALDEF; Omar Jadwat, Jennifer Chang Newell, and Lucas Guttentag of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; and Rebecca Robertson of the ACLU of Texas.
For more information about Villas at Parkside Partners v. City of Farmers Branch, please visit:
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.