Tuesday, July 23, 2013
In a 9-5 ruling, an en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down an immigration enforcement ordinance passed by Farmers Branch, Texas that would have prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants who were deemed unlawfully present and authorized arrest and prosecution of landlords and tenants found in violation of the law. A panel of the Fifth CIrcuit had previously struck down the ordinance before the court granted en banc review.
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.
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.
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.
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.