The Center for American Progress has a new report out called The High Price of Local Immigration Enforcement that tracks how much various anti-immigrant ordinances in cities like Hazelton, PA, and Farmers Branch have cost them. Most of those costs have been related to litigation, as they have had to defend themselves against multiple lawsuits, though they have also seen their tax bases erode. As someone who’s been following the Farmers Branch story since 2006, this was all familiar to me, but just to bring everyone up to speed, here’s the bit about where Farmers Branch stands now from the full report.
The city was hit with four separate lawsuits, including one from merchants claiming that the English-only provision had hurt their businesses. The lawsuits were eventually combined. In January 2007, after a court temporarily blocked implementation of the Farmers Branch law pending the outcome of the lawsuits, the city council repealed the original rental law and replaced it with a similar one drafted by [anti-immigrant activist Kris] Kobach that made adjustments for families of mixed immigration or citizenship status.
That ordinance was approved by voters in a May election but was declared unconstitutional a year later by a federal court on the grounds that it violated the federal supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, similar to the Hazleton, Pennsylvania, case. Undeterred, the city council passed another Kobach-authored ordinance in January, 2008, that would require all renters of apartments and houses to pay a $5 fee and state their legal status in their application for an occupancy license, thus removing landlords from the verification process.
The third ordinance also was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in April, 2010. Among its findings, the court noted that the Farmers Branch ordinance applies federal immigration classifications for purposes not authorized or contemplated by federal law. “As a result, the ordinance creates an additional restriction on alien residence in the City. The direct regulation of private contract for shelter based on inapplicable federal classifications constitutes an impermissible regulation of immigration,” the court stated. Farmers Branch then followed the path of Hazleton by asking an appellate court to overturn the lower court’s rejection of its immigration control ordinance. The case is now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
All of this has cost Farmers Branch $4 million, with more to come as the current case proceeds. Read the report for all the details.
What this report doesn’t explore, unfortunately, is the potential cost to cities and the state of the various anti-immigrant bills that are pending in the Texas Legislature. I presume that the first thing that will happen after some form of one of Debbie Riddle’s bills is signed into law that Texas will be subject to similar litigation as Arizona. Even if you take lawsuits out of the equation, the so-called “sanctuary city” bills are designed to force local law enforcement agencies to do the work of immigration officials at the risk of losing some state funds, but no funding mechanism is provided to compensate them for that extra work. What would an honest fiscal note for these bills look like? Those are the questions I’d like to see addressed right now.