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Cities pay a price for rules on illegal immigrants

Published May 6, 2007


FARMERS BRANCH, Texas - Cities nationwide are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves against lawsuits and other challenges to ordinances enacted to keep out illegal immigrants.

Some are warning that these communities are risking financial disaster in their effort to curb illegal immigration.

More than 90 cities or counties around the country have proposed, passed or rejected laws prohibiting landlords from leasing to illegal immigrants, penalizing businesses that employ undocumented workers or training police to enforce immigration laws.

Approval of these ordinances has generated criticism, demonstrations and lawsuits in Valley Park, Mo.; Riverside, N.J.; Escondido, Calif.; Hazleton, Pa.; and the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch.

Escondido abandoned an ordinance that would punish landlords who rent to illegal immigrants after it discovered the legal bills could top $1-million. By the time the City Council agreed in December to settle a lawsuit challenging the ordinance, Escondido had spent $200, 000, said spokeswoman Joyce Masterson.

In some instances, taxpayer money has been used to hire private attorneys to fight legal challenges. In others, private donations or insurance have offset part of the costs.

The city paying perhaps the biggest price for its entry into the immigration debate is Farmers Branch, which last fall became the first in Texas to ban landlords from renting apartments to illegal immigrants. Almost immediately, civil rights groups, residents, property owners and businesses filed four separate lawsuits challenging the ordinance.

Council members last month increased the city's legal budget to $444, 000.

For now, a judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance.

Opponents submitted a petition with enough signatures to force a May 12 vote on whether to rescind the ordinance.

The Pennsylvania town of Hazleton has fared better, receiving $266, 000 from donors around the country to defend its ordinance banning landlords from renting to illegal immigrants.

[Last modified May 6, 2007, 01:05:16]

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