Residents clash over illegal immigrant plan
Farmers Branch: Backers cite quality of life; foes call measures racist
07:54 AM CDT on Tuesday, August 22, 2006
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News
FARMERS BRANCH ˆ City Council members had little to say Monday night about suggestions from two of their colleagues that they adopt measures that would make it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city.
But their constituents had plenty to say in a work session marked by heckling and interruptions by both sides. Many opponents cried "racism," and many supporters said the measures had nothing to do with race and only aimed to make the city less attractive to people who are here illegally.
Several dozen residents crowded into the council chambers to discuss whether the city should restrict illegal immigrants through such measures as making it illegal for landlords to lease property to them; fining businesses that employ them; making English the city's official language; and halting funding for children of illegal immigrants to participate in Summer Funshine and other youth programs.
Those ideas, by council member Tim O'Hare, were borrowed from ordinances adopted by Hazelton, Pa., and under consideration by cities in California, Florida and elsewhere.
Mayor Pro Tem Ben Robinson had more ideas. He suggested that the council also consider prohibiting the assembly of day laborers; requiring contractors to abide by all federal laws, including immigration laws; and having police who question the residency papers of people they encounter on traffic stops or accidents make copies of those documents and submit them to immigration officials.
The issue was only an item for discussion during the council's work session, with no action scheduled or taken.
If and when the council will take the matter up for discussion again was unclear Monday night.
Council member Charlie Bird said he supported the proposal.
But he said the city can't arrest and have deported every illegal immigrant, even if it does adopt the local ordinances.
"It will take time to do what the council wants to do," he said. "We've got work to do."
Mayor Bob Phelps said the council will take action.
"It's going to happen," he said. "I don't know when, but it will happen."
Will Harrell, director of the ACLU of Texas, said earlier Monday that the organization would sue if the city does pass such ordinances.
Representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens and other groups last week also threatened lawsuits upon learning that Farmers Branch was considering ordinances restricting illegal immigrants.
"We definitely are going to engage this one," Mr. Harrell said. "It's painfully unconstitutional, hateful and grotesquely poor public policy. ... Hopefully, City Council reason will prevail. If not, we will meet them squarely in the courtroom."
Mr. Phelps said Monday night that he was not afraid of threats of lawsuits but didn't think it prudent to spend hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of taxpayer dollars on lawsuits.
He has said that before the council takes any action, it should wait until after proposed changes in federal immigration law have been adopted.
Those who addressed the council during the workshop were about 2-to-1 in opposition to the proposals. But the overall audience was largely supportive, often yelling comments to speakers in opposition, interrupting them and prompting Mr. Phelps to bang his gavel several times to call for order.
"I want to live, Mr. Mayor, in a city that is resistant to lawbreakers," one resident said. "I want to live in a city that's not a haven for them. I want them to know in advance it will be tough for them to live in our city."
Opponents said the proposed measures would put undue hardships on people who were here working hard to make a living.
"We wouldn't want to do business with a city that is so racist," said Elizabeth Villafranca, whose husband owns Cuquita's Restaurant in Farmers Branch.
The nature of the debate concerned resident Kathleen Matsumura.
"The terrorists can go home and rest. We'll kill ourselves," she said. "We'll just fight each other."