your connection to The Boston Globe

Dallas suburb OK's immigration rental ordinance

Public vote is first in nation

Farmers Branch council candidate Tim Scott and supporters of a ban on renting to most illegal immigrants cheered Saturday. (Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News via Associated Press)

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas -- Voters in this Dallas suburb have approved a local ordinance to prohibit landlords from renting to most illegal immigrants.

The balloting Saturday marked the first public vote on a local government measure to crack down on illegal immigration. The ban passed with 68 percent of the vote in unofficial returns.

"It says especially to Congress that we're tired of the out-of- control illegal immigration problem. That if Congress doesn't do something about it, cities will," said Tim O'Hare, a City Council member who was the lead proponent of the ordinance.

The new law requires apartment managers to verify that renters are US citizens or legal immigrants before leasing to them, with some exceptions. Property managers or owners who violate the rule face a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Council members approved the ordinance in November, then revised it in January to include exemptions for minors, seniors, and some families with a mix of legal residents and illegal immigrants.

Farmers Branch has become the site of protests and confrontations, and opponents of the regulation gathered signatures to force the city to put the measure on the municipal election ballot. With Saturday's approval of the ban, opponents plan to fight it in court, and will seek a restraining order to stop the city from enforcing it.

The city was already facing four lawsuits brought by civil rights groups, residents, property owners and businesses who contend that the ordinance discriminates and that it places landlords in the precarious position of acting as federal immigration officers.

Their attorneys say the ordinance attempts to regulate immigration, a duty that is exclusively the federal government's. One lawsuit also alleges the council violated the state open meetings act when deciding on the ordinance.

O'Hare contends that the city's economy and quality of life will improve if illegal immigrants are kept out. Farmers Branch has a population of about 28,000.

Around the country, more than 90 local governments have proposed, passed, or rejected laws prohibiting landlords from leasing to illegal immigrants, penalizing businesses that employ them or training police to enforce immigration laws. Many of the measures have not passed constitutional muster. In Washington over the weekend, talks continued among congressional leaders on a possible deal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.