Farmers Branch repeals controversial English-only ordinance

The Farmers Branch city council has done away with a controversial ordinance that made English the official language of the city.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to repeal the English-only ordinance. The mayor says the vote to get rid of it signals a new day for Farmers Branch, lifting an over a decade old shadow from the city's reputation.

The 2006 ordinance declared that all city business should be conducted in English. It claimed the use of the "common language" would remove barriers of misunderstanding and help to unify the people of Farmers Branch.

"The City of Farmers Branch can reduce costs and promote efficiency, in its roles as employer and as a government accountable to the people, by using the English language in its official actions and activities," it stated.

At the time, city leaders were also trying to make it illegal for landowners to rent from illegal immigrants. After heated protests and a seven-year legal battle, that ordinance was declared unconstitutional.

While things were calm at city hall on Wednesday, it was a far different picture 11 years ago. Carlos Quintanilla was there.

"I remember protests here where they would say, 'Go back to Mexico.' 'They need to clean up their own countries and get out of mine,'" recalled Quintanilla.

The initial protests erupted over a proposal to ban landlords from renting to illegal immigrants and making English the official language of Farmers Branch. Quintanilla, along with the ACLU, challenged the rental ban in court. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the city lost after spending millions on legal costs. But the "English only" resolution remained on the books up until this week.

"I felt this was a move that would finally bring us past this situation and into the future where we are no longer tied to this," said Farmers Branch Mayor Robert Dye. "We are a community focused on inclusiveness and moving forward and building a city focused on tomorrow and what the city needs to compete."

The mayor put it on the agenda as part of a campaign promise, but it didn't happen easily. There was debate over specific concerns like translating city forms and documents from English into other languages.

"I do believe that is a crutch to the lack of assimilation," said Councilman Terry Lynne. "And I do think it is important that people who live, not just in Farmers Branch, but Texas and elsewhere assimilate to what the local culture is."

Still, the activists who were there in 2006 believe the unanimous repeal is a step forward.

"We are glad Farmers Branch has taken the initiative to repeal," Quintanilla said. "Great victory. Part of a long healing process. We are glad to say it's over."

Mayor Dye says regardless of the English only policy, the law required city translations of information affecting public health and safety. But the repeal of the resolution means the city can now offer translations for marketing materials for library and parks and rec programs.