Nativist fears cause concern in Farmers Branch
Proposed anti-illegal immigrant law worries Hispanics in Dallas suburb
Updated: 3:07 p.m. CT Nov 12, 2006
FARMERS BRANCH, Texas - This Dallas suburb could become the first city in Texas to adopt a sweeping ordinance intended to keep out illegal immigrants, a cause for concern among its large minority population.
More than 50 municipalities nationwide have considered, passed or rejected laws banning landlords from leasing to illegal immigrants, penalizing businesses that employ undocumented workers and making English the local official language.
But until now, that trend hasn’t been matched in the Lone Star State.
“This is the first town in Texas that had the guts to do what’s right,” Susie Hart, who grew up in Farmers Branch, said during a recent demonstration outside City Hall. “The education system is tanking, health care has gone through the roof, everybody is bilingual.”
Such sentiments and the proposed ordinance trouble many people in Texas, where many Latino families can trace their roots here to the era before statehood.
“This is not just a Farmers Branch problem,” Elizabeth Villafranca said of the proposal.
Villafranca, whose family owns a Mexican restaurant in Farmers Branch, said she worries that such laws will spread to other cities if the City Council approves the proposal. The measure is expected to be submitted to the council on Monday, but there was no indication when it might be put to a vote.
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.
Increasingly heated issue
The local debate over illegal immigration began in August and spawned demonstrations by both sides of the issue. Council members adopted a resolution criticizing the federal government for not aggressively addressing the issue.
A councilman has given city attorneys drafts of an ordinance that would make English the city’s official language and proposals to fine companies and landlords who do business with illegal immigrants.
The Farmer’s Branch proposal follows a vote this year in Hazleton, Pa., to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, deny business permits to companies that employ them and require tenants to register and pay for a rental permit.
However, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the Hazleton ordinance while he considers a lawsuit against the town by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
More than a dozen other Pennsylvania cities have taken up similar ordinances, as have several others in the South and a handful in California.