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Housing ordinances can't be anti-immigrant cudgels

A federal appeals court Monday struck down a controversial ordinance that sought to ban landlords in the Texas community of Farmers Branch from renting to immigrants who are illegally in the country.

The 2008 ordinance, which never took effect, required renters to obtain a city license verifying they were in the country legally, and made it a crime for a landlord to rent to anyone without a license.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is hardly surprising, given that Farmers Branch officials argued that the law wasn't trying to regulate immigration; rather, they said, it was merely an attempt to regulate housing.

Such arguments are disingenuous. As The Times’ editorial page wrote last August, the goal of the Farmers Branch ordinance was clear from the start: to drive out illegal immigrants by making it impossible for them to find a place to live. In fact, that is the same underlying aim of Arizona's noxious SB 1070 law, which sought attrition through enforcement by making the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants so difficult that they would self-deport.

Clearly, the appeals court got it right, deferring to the Supreme Court, which ruled last year that most of the Arizona law was an illegal intrusion on the federal government’s authority to set immigration policy.

But it was Judge Thomas Reavley’s concurring opinion that I think provides the most eloquent explanation for why such laws have no place on the books.

Reavley rightly notes that the ordinance's real "purpose and effect" is "the exclusion of Latinos from the city of Farmers Branch." And such efforts to single out "illegal immigrants for adverse treatment is reminiscent of the ‘anti-Japanese fever’ that existed in the 1940s." Such legislation, he writes, "is not entitled to wear the cloak of constitutionality."

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