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Ruling on Arizona’s immigration law could affect Farmers Branch rental ordinance case


The following appeared in the June 17, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. Law Professor George Martinez provided expertise for this story.

June 21, 2012

By Dianne Solis

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law could have ramifications for Farmers Branch’s rehearing request on the city’s ordinance that bans illegal immigrants from rental properties.

The Arizona and Farmers Branch cases have key parallels. Both cases focus on the pre-emption argument that federal law overrules state and local law.

The high court’s ruling on the Arizona law could come as soon as Monday, and a decision there could pave the way for lower court rulings in similar cases, legal experts said.

At issue in Arizona are four sections of the state’s legislation, covering law enforcement to employment. The most publicized is a requirement that local law enforcement officials check the immigration status of people they stop if there is reasonable suspicion the person isn’t in the U.S. legally. Another section makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to work or to solicit work in Arizona. The mission, as the law states, is “attrition through enforcement.”

The Farmers Branch case focuses on an ordinance requiring all renters to get an occupancy license after proving they are legally in the United States. Landlords found in violation can have their business license suspended. Offenses are classified as Class C misdemeanors — the lowest level on a criminal, rather than civil, ladder.

The ordinance has been blocked at every level in federal courts, most recently by a majority opinion from a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The city of Farmers Branch wants a rehearing on the case, which has cost the city $4.85 million in legal fees through May.

Southern Methodist University law professor George Martinez said both cases are historic, with potentially broad impact.

“It is going to be a major change in the law,” he said. “That is why the Fifth Circuit will wait.”...