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A federal appeals court has struck down a law that would have required renters to be licensed,  and would have penalized landlords who rented to immigrants.

The Farmers Branch, Texas ordinance is one is a series of similar laws requiring landlords to ferret out immigrants deemed to be illegals by refusing to provide housing.  Hazleton, Pennsylvania and the state of Arizona had passed similar measures which also were recently struck down.

The Farmers Branch law required tenants seeking rental housing to register with the city and undergo an immigrant status check by the building department.  Only those issued licenses could obtain rental housing.  Landlords who rented to non-licensed tenants faced arrest, revocation of rental licenses, and fines.

The law never went into effect because a federal district court granted an injunction blocking enforcement of the ordinance pending appeal.

“By a large margin, the judges of the Fifth Circuit properly ruled that Farmers Branch’s anti-immigrant housing ordinance is fundamentally unconstitutional,” said Omar Jadwat, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Their ruling will prevent municipal governments from investigating and discriminating against immigrants and people of color. This law now joins many others of its kind that have been discredited and abandoned to history’s scrapheap through a series of court rulings.”

Beginning in 2006, the city of Farmers Branch, Texas, passed a series of housing ordinances designed to prevent undocumented immigrants from being able to rent apartments or homes. The ordinances were part of an effort to drive immigrants from the city by making life as difficult as possible, according to a statement by the ACLU. Each of the ordinances has been blocked by the federal courts as the result of litigation brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, and MALDEF.

In its ruling, the court said the Farmers Branch ordinance was unconstitutional because it conflicted with federal immigration law. The court relied on guidance from last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning key provisions from Arizona’s immigration bill. The judge’s wrote that a city or state cannot pursue it’s own immigration policy.

According to the ACLU statement, a concurring opinion in the decision issued Monday noted that because the “purpose and effect” of the ordinance was “the exclusion of Latinos from the city of Farmers Branch” and “legislation of [this] type is not entitled to wear the cloak of constitutionality.” Nine judges held the ordinance unconstitutional, while only five judges would have upheld it.

Opponents of these municipal immigration laws have pointed out that rather than deterring illegal immigration, they actually compound the problem. Federal immigration officials say they need a valid address in order to identify illegal immigrants.  Denying housing to undocumented immigrants makes it harder to locate those here illegally, and to prosecute immigration laws, including deportations.

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