New rental bans basically make landlords immigration officers
Many small towns and cities are acting like vigilantes and taking immigration matters into their own hands. Close to 90 municipalities in 27 states have drafted -- and a handful have enacted into law -- ordinances that prohibit landlords from ren...
Many small towns and cities are acting like vigilantes and taking immigration matters into their own hands.
Close to 90 municipalities in 27 states have drafted -- and a handful have enacted into law -- ordinances that prohibit landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. By doing so, they have turned a national policy issue into a harsh economic reality for local tenants.
Among the cities that have received national attention for enacting rental bans are Farmers Branch, Texas; Palm Bay, Fla.; Valley Park, Mo.; Riverside, N.J.; and Hazleton, Pa.
In Farmers Branch, the ballot measure was such a catalyst that it broke voter turnout records -- 6,000 residents went to the polls to decide the ordinance, which passed by 68 percent. The rental ban was to go into effect May 22 and would have required landlords to obtain proof of citizenship or legal status before leasing their properties. If they failed to comply, they would face a daily $500 fine.
On May 21, a federal judge temporarily halted the measure.
"The court also fully understands the frustration of cities attempting to address a national problem that the federal government should handle," U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ruled. "However, such frustration, no matter how great, cannot serve as a basis to pass an ordinance that conflicts with federal law."
These ordinances essentially turn landlords into federal immigration officers. Because they are not provided any training or supervision in this area, landlords may escalate tensions.
As for tenants, many of them might be too scared to face questions about their legal status and so may end up putting themselves and their families in dangerous living situations.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 13.9 million people (including 4.7 million children) belong to families in which the head of the household is an undocumented immigrant.
These ordinances punish mostly the low-skilled Latino workers who stand outside places like Home Depot, waiting for contract work; the bus boys at your favorite restaurant; the gardeners who keep your yard beautiful; and the hotel maids and short-order cooks on your business trip.
Latinos make up the majority of illegal immigrants: 78 percent, compared to 13 percent of Asians and 6 percent Europeans and Canadians. Opponents of the rental bans are asking: Is this a way to target working-class Latino immigrants and run them out of town?
"If this ordinance was intended, as we believe, to target Latinos and drive them out, that is unconstitutional, and we think the courts will agree," said Dallas lawyer Bill Brewer, who is lobbying against the Farmers Branch ordinance.
Latinos make up 40 percent of Farmers Branch's 28,500 residents. But unless enforcers go door to door and demand proof of citizenship, it will be difficult to know how many of them are undocumented, especially since Latinos have been in town for more than 30 years.
"We will take this all the way to the Supreme Court, if that's what we have to do," said Tim O'Hare, the city councilman who introduced the resolution.
Small towns are facing a new reality, one that has for decades been relegated to major cities: People looking for work and a better life for their families are bypassing the major urban centers and heading straight for the suburbs. You can't get any more American than that.
JULEYKA LANTIGUA is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary based in Madison, Wis.