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Is Farmers Branch Racist?

By Mark Davis

Lofty stuff, this Texan of the Year designation. It would make sense, and it would be tempting, to afford my vote to some powerful figure who enjoyed notable success in 2006, from Gov. Rick Perry to any of the various people who engaged in noble or philanthropic pursuits, or one or more of the various Texans who have made us proud by fighting the war on terror. But with permission, I'll go a level deeper and identify a Texan who has become a lightning rod for every sentiment along the spectrum of opinion on one of the most compelling issues faced by our state and our nation: immigration.

I refer to the boldness of City Council member Tim O'Hare of Farmers Branch, on Dallas' northwest border, who has put his town of roughly 30,000 squarely into the national news by spearheading measures designed to reflect local citizen frustration with lackadaisical enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Seeing a nation unwilling to seriously combat waves of illegal immigrants, Mr. O'Hare has sent a message: While America may take its sweet time paying attention to its own immigration laws, his city is going to pay attention to them right now.

Riding a wave of voter support, the Farmers Branch council passed a law creating penalties for renting to illegal immigrants. The city also declared English its official language.

This had two effects. Among those who are passionate about strong laws and effective borders, Mr. O'Hare became an instant hero. To those opposed, he became a gringo devil, a ripe target for some of the most reckless slander in recent North Texas political history.

Not all of the criticism was so sinister. There were those who honestly asked whether a city can, or should, stick its nose into business that is overseen by federal law. Others wondered about the burden placed on apartment complexes.

But the most prevalent and baseless scorn was heaped by officials and individuals acting in accord with the League of United Latin American Citizens and other Hispanic advocacy groups. From Domingo Garcia to Jesse Diaz and beyond, Mr. O'Hare and his supporters were demonized as racist, an absurd claim that overlooks the fact that this is a matter of behavior and not ethnicity.

They were branded as un-American, the first time I can recall a devotion to law being characterized as unpatriotic.

Most comically, they were called un-Christian, as if we are called on by Jesus to practice a bizarre brand of compassion that involves blindness to just laws.

Mr. O'Hare would deserve praise for his actions alone. But throw in the bitter, racist hatred he and his family have tasted since standing up for U.S. law, and it becomes the stuff of outright heroism.

Farmers Branch may find itself buried in boycotts and nuisance lawsuits like the ones that hit Hazleton, Pa., when it passed similar measures. Fine. There is no shortage of people of various races willing to counteract boycotts with their supportive consumer dollars; many are even willing to contribute to a legal defense fund to help stave off troublemakers seeking to thwart the will of the people of Farmers Branch.

The enormously supportive reaction to Mr. O'Hare's initiatives has not gone unnoticed in Austin, where lawmakers are nearly stumbling over one another to file bills that fill the gaps of inadequate federal border enforcement. Proposals include restrictions on birthright citizenship, obstacles to free health care and education, and barriers to business permits - none of which will harm one legal immigrant.

There is a lesson in the courage of Mr. O'Hare and other city and state officials across America who will adopt similar logic. It is that just as embracing legal immigrants has helped make America great, obliviousness to the threat of illegal immigrants threatens that greatness.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is mdavis@wbap.com.

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