FREMONT, NEB. Voters in the eastern Nebraska city of Fremont on Monday approved a ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants, the latest proposal in a series of immigration regulations taken up by communities around the country.
About 57 percent of voters in Fremont supported the proposal, according to unofficial results that still must be certified by the election commissioner. The measure is likely to face a long and costly court battle, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying it will try to block it before it even goes into effect.
The town of about 25,000 people has watched as its Hispanic population surged in the past two decades, largely because of the jobs available at the nearby Fremont Beef and Hormel meatpacking plants. The city also has an enviably low unemployment rate that matches the Nebraska rate of 4.9 percent.
Nonetheless, residents worry that jobs are going to illegal immigrants who they fear could drain community resources. Proponents of the ballot measure collected enough signatures and fought in the Nebraska Supreme Court to put the question to a public vote.
The vote is the latest chapter in the tumult over illegal immigration across the country, including a recently passed Arizona law that will require police investigating another incident or crime to ask people about their immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally.
Kansas City, Mo.-based attorney Kris Kobach, who helped write the Arizona law, has been working on the ordinance in Fremont. He is also running for secretary of state in Kansas.
From about 165 Hispanics — both legal and illegal — living in Fremont in 1990, the total surged to 1,085 in 2000, according to census expert David Drozd at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He said an estimated 2,060 Hispanics lived there last year.
The measure will require potential renters to apply for a license to rent. The application process will force Fremont officials to check if the renters are in the country legally. If they are found to be illegal, they will not be issued a license allowing them to rent. The ordinance also requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify database to ensure employees are allowed to work.
Communities that have passed such laws have faced costly legal bills and struggled to enforce them because of legal challenges. Even before the Fremont measure passed, the ACLU of Nebraska had said it would sue.