Texas town takes on illegal immigration
In response to what many local governments say is the federal government’s lack of immigration law enforcement, communities across the country are implementing their own measures to address the issue. In November, Farmers Branch, Texas, became the first city in the state to approve an ordinance, effective Jan. 12, 2007, that will fine apartment managers who rent units to illegal immigrants. It also passed a resolution declaring English as the city’s official language. American City & County talked with Farmers Branch Mayor Bob Phelps about why the city chose to implement the measures, the role of the federal government and the claims that such measures are discriminatory.
Q: How do you answer claims that the measures are unconstitutional and discriminatory?
A: What our attorneys came up with follows the HUD guidelines, which requires proof of citizenship to receive any benefits. The city attorney and I met a week ago with the head of [the League of United Latin American Citizens]. [In] our ordinance, they really have not found anything wrong. There was a lot of misconception when it was passed. We had people the next day call and say, ‘Are we not going to be able to have mass in Spanish?” But it has nothing to do with that. [The ordinance] covers strictly apartments. It does not cover residences at all. The Supreme Court had ruled that immigration is the sole responsibility of the federal government, and they’re not doing it. I had a meeting with [Texas Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison a couple of weeks ago. I told her then that something needs to happen up there that the federal, state, counties and cities can all work together on. We’ll do our part, but we’re a little town. We can’t take on the whole United States and foot the bill for everything.
Q: Since similar ordinances are being blocked because of lawsuits, what made you want to continue with your city’s measures?
A: I didn’t want to. I’m the spokesman for the city, so whatever our council passes is what I have to announce and go with even though I may or may not agree with it. We had probably 150 people signed up to speak to it, both pro and con. One of the councilmen said, ‘Before we hear all these, let’s go ahead and vote on this.’ So, we passed it before giving anybody [any] input. That has really been the thorn in the people’s side, not being able to speak to it until it was already passed, and that’s really not the way it should be done.
Q: How does Farmers Branch plan to enforce the measures?
A: The apartment managers and owners are the responsible parties. They have to keep their proof, and they can use the same [25 proofs of legal residency] the federal government [uses]. They have to keep a copy of that for two years. What we can do is spot check it.
Q: What can the federal government do to improve its immigration enforcement?
A: Enforce it. They haven’t done anything since . They passed a reform, and that’s all they did was pass it. With the elections and the changes that [are going to take place] in Washington, this all may be a moot issue in six months.
Q: What message do the measures send to new and current residents?
A: We’re not racist. If they’re moving into an apartment, they’re going to have to be legal. I don’t want [people] to think that they can’t go to church or have meetings in their own language. The Hispanics really are the ones that had the feeling that they were not going to be able to talk to each other, and that’s incorrect.