Monday, December 04, 2006

Petitioners Gather Signatures to Put Immigration Issue on Ballot

A group known as "Let the Voters Decide" was in Farmers Branch this weekend gathering petitions to put its immigration ordinance on the ballot. Volunteers were walking in several neighborhoods, asking registered voters to sign a petition challenging the ordinance that requires landlords to verify proof of citizenship or residency for every tenant. The group has a week to sign up 5% of registered voters based on last May's election in order to get the ordinance on the ballot. This works out to about 726 valid signatures.

The controversial measures passed by council have brought national attention to this town of 30,000 in Dallas County. The ordinances, put forth by councilman Tim O'Hare, also include making English the official language and another one enabling the Police Department to check the residency status of people arrested for a crime. A fourth provision that would have made employers criminally responsible for hiring illegals was withdrawn. The petition being circulated targets only the landlord ordinance.

Reactions of residents to the measures vary. Some are extremely embarrassed and feel that the ordinances do not reflect the tolerant community in which they live. Others adamantly feel that the council did the right thing. Most agree that the city laws are a poor substitute for comprehensive federal immigration reform.

And not all signers of the petition are in favor of repealing the ordinance. Some residents feel that such a controversial issue should be subject to wider debate, but still expected the majority of Farmers Branch voters to support the ordinance. City council members seem content to let the issue be decided by "the will of the people."

City Council member Tim O'Hare said the petition process is a good check on the City Council, but he's confident voters would back the ordinance if it came to a vote.

"I don't think it will be close," he said.

Mayor Bob Phelps said residents have the right to gather signatures. "If they do that and the city secretary certifies everything, then I certainly have no problem with it," he said.

As of this weekend, the petition drive appeared to be going well. If enough signatures are validated, the ordinance could be brought before the Farmers Branch town council for a revote. If town council still supports the ordinance, it would be put on the May ballot for voter approval. If the ordinance takes effect in January, as planned, several groups stand ready to file lawsuits to prevent its enforcement.

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