When Is a Landlord Not a Border Patrol Officer?
The failure of the Farmers Branch immigration ordinance sends out a strong message to local and state lawmakers.
By Richard Whittaker,
12:14PM, Tue. May 22, 2007
A strong message has been sent to Texas lawmakers – leave immigration law to the Feds.
Yesterday, the city of Farmers Branch (a wonderfully pastoral misnomer, since it's basically a suburb of Dallas now) was blocked from enacting a statute that would have made landlords check the immigration status of anyone to whom they were renting – meaning anyone with a spare room for lease would suddenly become an immigration officer. Only without the training, resources, or any kind of real data base. In handing down his 10-day temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay said in his 20-page judgment that, basically, the city had no constitutional right to pass a law like this.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit against the ordinance, which was also opposed by many local landlords. It would have shifted a basic tenet of Texas immigration practice of "don't ask, don't tell" – something that a whole bunch of state-level bills this Lege session tried to do and were shot down for attempting. Ask yourself – would you know the difference between a real and a forged OPT Card? Do you even know what an OPT card is?
Lindsay said that it wasn't immigration itself that was at stake, but that it was an unconstitutional violation of the rule-making powers of the Federal government. Yep, the pesky pre-emption clause of the Constitution (Article VI, Section I, Clause II, for all you budding constitutionalists), the one that says federal always trumps state or local when it's a federal issue, has long held immigration to be a federal issue.
Even though the city has founded a legal defense fund to fight this, it's very unlikely that a higher court would find against the underlying rules of the separation of powers in the nation.