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Farmers Branch won't pursue legal battle on immigrant rental ban ruled unconstitutional
Farmers Branch has decided to stop fighting for one of its ordinances to ban housing rentals to illegal immigrants and will instead concentrate on defending a replacement.
City officials had vowed to support the earlier measure, which a federal judge recently declared unconstitutional, to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
But city officials said the newer measure, Ordinance 2952, is more likely to withstand legal challenges and would still carry out the will of the voters who approved the earlier one, Ordinance 2903.
“Basically,” City Manager Gary Greer said Monday, “I looked at as much information as I possibly could — at the way the ordinance has been seen by the court, the fact that it was voted on by the people and passed, the things I’ve heard from our policymakers.
“And I looked at where we were financially in regards to all these court battles.”
The earlier ordinance would have required landlords to confirm that prospective tenants were in the country legally before renting to them.
The newer measure would shift that task to city officials using a federal database. And it would apply to rental houses, as well as apartments.
The decision not to further defend Ordinance 2903 brought “I told you so” comments from some opponents, who had long argued that the ordinance would be struck down despite the expenditure of large sums in legal fees.
“I’ve been saying since the very first day that it was unconstitutional, that it would be expensive, divisive and would never go into effect,” resident Christopher McGuire said. “I haven’t changed my tune for more than two years.”
Mayor Tim O’Hare, who as a council member instigated the city’s efforts to expel illegal immigrants, said he hasn’t changed his tune, either.
“We still think it’s a constitutional ordinance,” said Mr. O’Hare, who had said both before and after the measure’s overwhelming approval in a May 2007 election that officials would defend it to the high court if necessary. “But economic times have changed with the economy the way it is. We still feel like we’re carrying out the will of the people of our city, pursuing 2952.”
The decision not to appeal came as the city learned that attorneys for the plaintiffs in the 2903 case are seeking more than $900,000 in legal fees and court costs from the city.
On Friday, attorneys for Bickel & Brewer Storefront, which represented one group of plaintiffs in the case, submitted bills totaling $480,000. Later the same day, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented other plaintiffs, submitted a request for $444,406 in attorney fees and court costs.
That brings the total in legal costs being billed to the city from the groups that filed the lawsuit to $924,406, though Mr. Greer said the city would challenge the amounts.
“I can tell you their requests are ridiculous,” he said. “Absolutely, we will challenge every dollar they have presented. And we won’t quit until we get a fair determination of the costs.”
The amounts requested by the plaintiffs’ attorneys are in addition to more than $924,000 the city has spent to defend its series of three rental ban ordinances — a version approved by the council in 2006 but repealed in early 2007, Ordinance 2903 and, now, Ordinance 2952.
Ordinance 2952 was to have taken effect this month, but U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle has blocked enforcement pending the outcome of a new lawsuit. A trial, if necessary, is to take place by December.
Immigration News Daily