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A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that stopped a Dallas suburb's ban on illegal immigrants seeking housing.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Farmers Branch overstepped its authority in 2008 when it passed a law calling on the city's building inspector to check the immigration status of anyone wanting to rent an apartment who wasn't a U.S. citizen.

Under the law, illegal immigrants would have been barred from rental housing, and landlords who knowingly allowed them to stay could have their rental licenses barred.

The appellate court said the city was seeking to exclude illegal immigrants, particularly Latinos, under the guise of policing housing.

"Because the sole purpose and effect of this ordinance is to target the presence of illegal aliens within the City of Farmers Branch and to cause their removal, it contravenes the federal government's exclusive authority over the regulation of immigration and the conditions of residence in this country," the court's opinion stated.

The city had appealed the decision of U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle, who ruled two years ago that the law is unconstitutional after a lawsuit was filed by apartment owners and tenants.

William Brewer, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he sensed a "strong undercurrent" throughout the appellate court's decision that Farmers Branch was engaged in discrimination. The ruling is particularly meaningful because the 5th Circuit has a reputation for conservatism, he said.


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