Many say illegal immigrants are making property values and crime rates worse, but an analysis of government data shows great improvement in these areas

May 17, 2009

Public opinion doesn’t follow the numbers
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Monday, February 5, 2007

Farmers Branch’s schools, property values and crime rate have improved in the past decade.

Many Farmers Branch residents say their City Council was right to make the Dallas suburb an outpost in the anti-illegal-immigration movement because they believe that illegal immigrants have increased the city’s crime rate and hurt its schools and property values.

That perception, however, contradicts the most recent figures available:

Despite an uptick in crime in 2003 and 2004, the 10-year crime rate dropped 27 percent from 1995 to 2005, according to figures from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The average value of a Farmers Branch home increased 63 percent over 10 years to $149,421 in 2006, according to the Dallas Central Appraisal District. That’s less than the average increase of 85 percent for Dallas County.

The Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district’s average SAT score bounced up and down for the last seven years but is still up 83 points from a decade ago, according to the Texas Education Agency. The class of 2005’s average SAT score was 1008. The state average was 992.

The district’s state accountability rating, which is based on how well its students score on standardized state tests, rose to recognized from acceptable. The rating’s rise came after more and harder tests were introduced, agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said. She said most school districts’ ratings went down under the tougher standards.

City Council member Tim O’Hare, who proposed the city ordinances now in dispute, dismissed the numbers and argued that Farmers Branch is not doing well compared with other cities in the county. He said real estate agents and teachers tell him in private that illegal immigrants are hurting the city.

“We have a large population of illegals in our city, and to say that does not affect property values or schools is just plain ignorant,” he said, pointing out that property values increased only 1.07 percent from 2005 to 2006.

He said property values are harmed partially because of illegal immigrants’ low incomes and their tendency to pack into one house or apartment.

O’Hare said such low-income areas tend to have higher crime, and he also linked that, in part, to illegal immigrants.

“Illegal immigrants, as a rule, don’t make a ton of money,” he said.

At his urging, the council voted to make English the city’s official language, have a police officer trained to coordinate with federal officials on the enforcement of immigration law and prohibit illegal immigrants from renting apartments.

The measures passed 5-0 in November. The council recently voted 5-0 to tweak the rental ban’s language and hold off implementing the ban pending a voter referendum on the issue in May.

Several organizations and Farmers Branch business owners have sued the city over its illegal-immigration stance. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the suits behind closed doors at the City Council meeting today.

Progress and perceptions

Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson said many people may not see the progress shown by state figures because they see so many Hispanics.

“People tend to perceive higher rates of crime and disorder in neighborhoods where there are higher concentrations of immigrants and minority groups,” he said.

Sampson and University of Chicago sociologist Stephen Raudenbush interviewed more than 3,500 Chicago residents about their perceptions of disorder in their neighborhoods. Their research found that increased concentrations of blacks and Latinos significantly increased people’s perception of disorder.

They wrote, “The persistence of racial stereotyping does not necessarily mean that people are personally hostile to those of another race. Cultural stereotypes … persist even in individuals who consciously reject prejudice.”

“We all have latent, hidden biases, and I think this is not a conscious anti-Latino prejudice,” Sampson said.

Farmers Branch resident Rick Johnson said he is not prejudiced against Hispanics, but he said he supports the City Council’s actions partially because he believes that illegal immigrants are hurting the schools.

“A lot of times, the teachers are focusing on the students who don’t speak English very well,” he said.

Tom Bohmier, another supporter of the anti-illegal immigration measures, said too many illegal immigrants are packing into apartments and houses, causing the student population to soar at a time when few new houses are being built.

In the last 10 years, the city issued 104 permits for new home construction, and many of them involved tearing down old houses to make way for new ones. During that period, the school district’s student population increased 22 percent to 26,153. The portion of these students who speak limited English jumped from 12 percent to 24 percent.

The number of teachers teaching in the bilingual and English as a second language programs has increased 76 percent over 10 years, while the overall number of teachers increased 40 percent. The number of teachers in bilingual and ESL programs increased 64 percent over the decade.

With those gains, the percentage of teachers in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district who are teaching in bilingual and ESL programs is almost 9 percent, about equal to the state average.

O’Hare said it must be inefficient to pump so much time and money into bilingual programs for these students.

The school district’s bilingual and ESL programs cost $3.6 million, 6.4 percent of the budget.

Isabella Piña-Hinojosa, the school district’s bilingual/ESL coordinator for program compliance, said the district pays certified bilingual teachers a $3,000 stipend.

“Is the extra funding straining the budget? No,” she said.

She said school districts throughout Texas are doing this to meet state requirements for the growing population of students with limited English proficiency.

Although the district’s state academic rating went up as a whole, O’Hare noted that R.L. Turner High School has only an academically acceptable rating from the TEA.

“I had teacher after teacher saying, ‘Hey, we love what you’re doing. It is so needed,’” O’Hare said. “I’m telling you what people come up to me and tell me, and I’m telling you what I see with my own eyes.”