Ordinances passed to curb illegal immigration differ by legal arguments, professors say

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This week, the City Council of Farmers Branch, a Dallas suburb, voted unanimously to pass ordinances aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration and making English the city's official language.

The ordinances will require city officials to conduct nearly all official business in English, prohibit landlords from renting apartments to people who cannot prove their citizenship or legal status and have city police enter into a cooperative agreement with federal immigration officials to target "criminal aliens." Anti-illegal immigration activists in Arlington and Fort Worth have said they will push for similar measures in their cities.

Although members of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund have said that these ordinances violate federal law, Dr. Kimi King, University of North Texas associate professor of political science, said provisions making English an official language "have been upheld consistently by the courts, although not without challenge."

"The government has to clearly specify what its interest is in seeking to protect English as the official language," she said, adding that some courts have ruled that failure to provide benefits or services in foreign languages does not constitute discrimination on the basis of national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights law because equating a person's language with the person's national origin has no basis in law or fact.

A UNT professor of finance, insurance, real estate and law points out, however, that the Farmers Branch City Council's decision to ban illegal immigrants from renting property in the city is in direct violation of federal fair housing regulations.

Dr. John Baen predicts the ordinance, unlike the English-only ordinance, will not survive a court challenge.

"The city of Farmers Branch is using federal immigration laws to violate fair housing discrimination laws. Those laws say you cannot discriminate on protected classes, such as race or marital status. The city is using immigration status as a way to get around the protections of the protected classes," says Baen, who is a practicing commercial real estate broker and certified real estate appraiser.

The restriction, which goes into effect this January, requires apartment owners or managers to obtain proof that all prospective tenants are either U.S. citizens or in the country legally before agreeing to a lease or rental agreement. Baen thinks that racism may be behind the new laws.

"You cannot tell if a person is a legal resident or not simply by looking at him or her. As a result a whole class of people, many of whom are citizens and legal residents, are offended by the law. We need to embrace different cultures and face reality," he says.

Supporters of the Farmers Branch ordinances claim that illegal immigrants do not pay taxes, but Baen argues that the immigrants indirectly pay local and school property taxes through their rent payments to a landlord. He points out nearly two dozen cities around the United States have adopted similar ordinances, which he describes as short-sighted.

"Twenty to thirty percent of these ‘new Americans' are sending money to their families back in their home countries. In the case of Mexico, we do not provide any direct financial aid to that country, so you could argue that the families are doing that by transferring the money," he says.

King says the larger issue for city councils passing anti-illegal immigration ordinances, such as the ones in Farmers Branch, "is not a legal issue, but a political one."

"A city has to weigh legal issues with political issues, realizing that Spanish-speaking businesses may decide to go elsewhere," she says.

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