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Texas Town Votes to Restrict Access for Illegal Immigrants

Angry protests have erupted in the Dallas, Texas, suburb of Farmers Branch after the local city council on Monday voted to make English the municipality's official language and impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants.

The measures passed by the Farmers Branch city council are not specifically targeted at any ethnic group, but Hispanics have been leading most of the protests. Most of the immigrants in this area are from Latin America, with Mexico being the main country of origin. The six city council members who voted for the ordinances say they wanted to shield the community from the negative effects of illegal immigration, but Carlos Quintanilla, a local organizer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC, disagrees. "What they have done is build a shield of hate, a shield of division," he said.

The city council action drew crowds of supporters as well as opponents, who engaged in verbal clashes.

Local taxi driver Gerald Colgrave, who supports the council action, says he has nothing against people of any ethnic group as long as they do not violate U.S. immigration laws. "I have no objection to them being here, I just want them to follow the law. You cannot have the American dream if you do not follow the law," he said.

The measure to require landlords to check the immigration status of people seeking to rent an apartment or house and to fine those who fail to comply is similar to one passed by the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, earlier this year. A federal judge has blocked enforcement of that law while considering lawsuits that challenge it.

Similar laws have been proposed in other parts of the United States, but implemented in only a few. The action by the council in Farmers Branch represents the first instance in which a community in Texas has approved such measures.

Farmers Branch is a town of about 28,000 people, about one third of them Hispanic. The town's mayor, Bob Phelps, says he is troubled by the measures because he thinks the controversy will create an image of an intolerant community and scare away businesses looking to locate there.

Texas, which has long-standing relations with Mexico and Mexican Americans that go back to the time when it was part of Mexico, has been generally more tolerant of immigrants than some other border states. But the high cost of health care and social services for illegal immigrants is causing many communities to be less welcoming.

This week the state legislature began considering a bill that would impose an eight percent fee on all international money transfers. Mexican immigrants in the United States send back more than $20 billion to families at home every year.

Supporters of the bill, which would also deny many entitlements and jobs to illegal immigrants, say money raised from the fees could be used to offset the costs local hospitals incur when treating illegal immigrants in emergency rooms. Another proposal before the legislature would authorize the state to sue the federal government to recover such costs because controlling the border is a federal responsibility.