August 8, 2008

Carrollton council to take its time on illegal-immigration advisory panel

12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, August 7, 2008
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News

Carrollton City Council members want to have a residents' panel advise them on combating the effects of illegal immigration. They're just not sure how to go about it.

On Tuesday, the council didn't reach agreement on how many members the committee should have, how they should be selected or just what the group should do.

"You have to decide, what are you looking for them to bring back to you?" City Manager Leonard Martin advised the council. "Do you want them to hold public hearings on this emotional issue that could get a little dicey?"

Without clear direction, Mr. Martin said, "they're not going to know what to do."

Mayor Ron Branson is clear about his own vision for the panel: He wants each of the eight City Council members to recommend five potential members. That number would then be whittled to 12 to 15 approved by the full council. Then the panel, led by a paid facilitator, would study illegal immigration in Carrollton and advise the council on ways to counter it.

Last month, the council agreed in a retreat to form an advisory committee – the brainchild of Mr. Branson, who was elected in May. But on Tuesday, some council members disagreed about how to proceed.

Some thought the full council should select the facilitator from two or three names submitted by the city staff. Others thought the committee should choose its own facilitator.

Some wanted to empower each council member to appoint one or more representatives to the committee; others wanted the committee membership subject to approval by the full council.

"We could drag this thing out several months on selection," council member Tim Hayden said.

Instead, the council named Mr. Branson and council members Herb Weidinger and Larry Williams to a subcommittee that will make preliminary recommendations about the committee's makeup and mission. The subcommittee also is expected to interview potential panel members and decide on a facilitator.

Mr. Branson said illegal immigrants in Carrollton are a threat to public safety. And he said some apartment complexes on the south side had solicited illegal immigrants from Farmers Branch, which is waging a legal fight to ban property rentals to them.

Citizens on Patrol has been advised by police that it is dangerous for its members to venture onto the apartment properties, said Mr. Branson, who volunteers with the group.

"If illegal immigration is contributing to that problem, that's a symptom we need to address," he said.

Mr. Branson supports Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O'Hare, the driving force behind that city's efforts.

But he vowed that Carrollton would not merely follow in the steps of Farmers Branch – or Irving, which drew national attention for the numbers of suspected illegal immigrants that its jail was turning over to immigration authorities for possible deportation.

"First off," Mr. Branson said, "we want no radicals on either side" – those who think all illegal immigrants should be shipped home or those who think they should all be granted visas and allowed to stay.

"We want people to look at everything objectively ... and come up with a plan I think our citizens will buy into," he said.

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