DALLAS A federal judge on Friday stopped a Dallas suburb's latest attempt to drive away illegal immigrants, ruling that Farmers Branch cannot enforce a ban on apartment rentals to those who can't prove they live legally in the country.
U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle's temporary restraining order stopped an ordinance that had been set to go into effect today. The ordinance was intended to replace a similar measure that was struck down in federal court.
"We're very disappointed in Judge Boyle's view of the ordinance, but we're confident that ultimately it will be upheld by the federal court system," said Michael Jung, the attorney representing the city of Farmers Branch.
The judge said the ordinance has the potential to cause irreparable injury to landlords who are likely to lose business to neighboring cities that don't have similar laws.
In addition, she said, the criminal penalties imposed on rental property owners who don't comply could be a "substantial threat" and cause irreparable harm.
In any case, the judge said the ordinance basically decides who can live in the city and poses a "slippery slope" should city officials attempt to override the role of the federal government on immigration matters.
She said the court will follow up shortly with a preliminary injunction hearing. That will allow the merits of the case to be fully heard.
Tim O'Hare, who steered the city's campaign against illegal immigrants as a first-term councilman and has since been elected its mayor, said he was not surprised by the decision. He also remained confident the ordinance will prevail, he said.
"I think the judge is wrong," O'Hare said. "I think the will of the people of Farmers Branch is not being carried out. I think you'll ultimately see this matter resolved in the U.S. Supreme Court."
The measure required prospective apartment and house renters to obtain a city license. Under the rule, the city would forward information from the license application to the federal government for verification of a tenant's immigration status.
Mary Miller Smith, a former Farmers Branch city councilwoman who leases an apartment and opposes the ordinance, said she was "totally, totally, totally ecstatic" by the ruling.
"The thought of having to get a license to live in Farmers Branch was totally repulsive to me," said Smith, who is part of the federal lawsuit filed by a group of landlords.
Bill Brewer, who represents a group of rental ban opponents, said "we're very pleased Judge Boyle took the time to look at the ordinance" and carefully consider the facts.
The restraining order stems from a lawsuit one of several the city faces in a continuing nearly two-year battle over measures attempting to keep illegal immigrants from living in the city of about 28,000.