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Archive for Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Immigration vote stirs emotions in Neb. town

June 23, 2010

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An unidentified person walks past a patriotic mural in Fremont, Neb., in this photo taken Saturday. Fremont voters on Monday approved a measure to ban hiring of or renting property to illegal immigrants.

An unidentified person walks past a patriotic mural in Fremont, Neb., in this photo taken Saturday. Fremont voters on Monday approved a measure to ban hiring of or renting property to illegal immigrants.

— While busy running a general store that caters to the growing number of Latinos in this Nebraska meatpacking town, Alfredo Velez had new concerns Tuesday after his neighbors voted for an ordinance to crack down on illegal immigrants.

To Velez, the vote a day earlier in Fremont to ban hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants sent a clear message: “We’re not welcome here,” said Velez, a native of Mexico who became a U.S. citizen in 1985.

As a business owner, though, he worried about his store, Guerrero, which sells food and other products from Mexico and Central America.

“How much more in taxes am I going to have to pay for this thing to go to court?” wondered Velez, 56. “We’re all going to have to pay for it, no matter what color our skin is.”

With roughly 57 percent of voters supporting the ordinance, Fremont joins Arizona and a few other cities in the national debate over immigration regulations. The community about 35 miles northwest of Omaha has seen its Hispanic population surge in the past two decades, largely due to the jobs available at the nearby Fremont Beef and Hormel plants.

Supporters argued the measure was necessary to make up for what they see as lax federal law enforcement. Trevor McClurg said the measure is fair because it’s aimed at people who aren’t legally in the U.S.

“I don’t think it’s right to be able to rent to them or hire them,” McClurg said. “They shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Opponents said it could fuel discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union has promised to file a lawsuit to block enforcement of the Fremont proposal, which could mean a lengthy and costly court fight.

“We are moving as quickly as possible, because we don’t want this law to be in effect for even one day,” said Amy Miller, legal director for the Nebraska ACLU.

Uncertain timetable

Election officials expect to certify the vote on Monday, but it’s unclear when the law would take effect. The Fremont City Council will vote to certify the results, City Manager Robert Hartwig said, and the ordinance will take effect within 30 days of that vote. Hartwig did not say when the City Council might vote.

The legal fight could drag on for years, as it has in Hazleton, Pa., one of the first cities in the U.S. to pass an ordinance targeting illegal immigrants in 2006.

“Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride,” Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta said.

The Fremont measure, which requires city officials and employers to ensure that applicants are in the country legally, was modeled after the Hazleton ordinance. But that law has been tied up in court and has never been enforced. A federal judge struck down the ordinance, but it is on appeal.

Barletta said the community of about 32,000 has paid $500,000 — all covered by private donors — so far to defend the ordinance. But that’s only a portion of Hazleton’s $5 million legal bill. Its insurer has refused to pay the $4.5 remainder in legal fees, Barletta said, and Hazleton is suing the insurer to collect. The costs could go much higher, as opposition lawyers are seeking $2 million from Hazleton to cover their fees — and that doesn’t include fees accumulated in the appeal process.

In Fremont, officials are aware of the potential costs. Hartwig distributed information before the vote, noting not only Hazleton’s costs to fight lawsuits but those that other towns incurred defending their own immigration ordinances. Farmers Branch, Texas, has run up more than $3 million in legal fees since 2006, and Valley Park, Mo., has seen about $270,000 in fees since 2008.

Fremont officials are assuming that the costs of the ordinance — which includes legal fees, employee overtime and improved computer software — will average $1 million a year, the statement said.

Hidden costs

But city officials might still be underestimating the toll the ordinance could take on Fremont’s economy, said Velez, who also owns a downtown apartment building and fears the ordinance will chase away renters. He said other businesses that rely on immigrant labor could be hurt, and the city will most certainly lose tax revenue if the ordinance drives some people out of town.

“Even if they’re illegal, they’re paying taxes,” Velez said. “Employers withhold taxes for everyone on the rolls. They pay sales taxes. They pay taxes for everything.”

After 12 years in Fremont, the father of four considers the city home and has no plans to leave — but said the vote by his neighbors stung.

“The people say it’s not about Hispanics, but it is,” he said. “The Anglos, they don’t look as friendly at us when we pass on the street.

Pineda Arul of nearby Wahoo, who was shopping in Fremont on Tuesday, was angered by Monday’s vote and said some Americans seem to have forget their own history as immigrants from Europe.

“They try to make us look bad, saying we’re bringing all these drugs into America,” said Arul, a 40-year-old auto mechanic originally from Mexico City who said he became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago. “Let me ask you: Who is the one buying the drugs? White Americans, that’s who. We’re just here to work.”

Comments

kernal 4 years, 1 month ago

The last paragraph of this story says it all.

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Mixolydian 4 years, 1 month ago

"...originally from Mexico City who said he became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago."

You're right it does say it all. He's an American citizen. The law is not directed towards him.

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texburgh 4 years, 1 month ago

Except, of course, it will be. He will looked upon with suspicion and his white/anglo neighbors will not.

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bradh 4 years, 1 month ago

There is a lot of difference from people who entered the country legally versus those who enter the country illegally. The first are welcome, the second are criminals. We have processes in place to enter the country legally either part time or permanently, use them.

Arul downplays the drugs coming into the country along with the illegal aliens. I'm surprised he didn't downplay the murders, gang activity and the like that have also come across the border.

It's interesting how the author makes it sound like it is bad that people are spending money defending our laws. Maybe we should stop enforcing our murder and rape laws because they cost so much to enforce and prosecute. Shoot, we could probably save all kinds of money by doing away with police departments all together. It sounds like one of many costs born by the rest of us for having illegal aliens amongst us.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 1 month ago

"There is a lot of difference from people who entered the country legally versus those who enter the country illegally. The first are welcome, the second are criminals."

Arbitrary thinking will never solve non-existent problems.

"I'm surprised he didn't downplay the murders, gang activity and the like that have also come across the border."

There's been easily as much violent gang activity shifted across the border from this side as vice-versa. Violence is a bad thing, no matter where it comes from, but this law will do zero, nada, nothing reduce it, especially in Fremont, Nebraska.

"Maybe we should stop enforcing our murder and rape laws because they cost so much to enforce and prosecute."

So, working in a packing plant is comparable to murder and rape?

You aren't concerned about the "law." You're just directing your generalized anger in a very racist direction.

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SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 1 month ago

Race card foolishly played at 7:41 a.m.

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Larry 4 years, 1 month ago

j_a_b_o_t_b - Your response is.....is....is just unreal.

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Flap Doodle 4 years, 1 month ago

How is it arbitrary to say that someone who is breaking the law is a criminal?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm sure that if given the chance to be here "legally," the vast majority would do so.

But in the meantime they are caught in a catch 22 founded primarily on racist principles-- more or less the same ones that Jim Crow were based on, and made criminals of mixed race couples.

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Amy Heeter 4 years, 1 month ago

How do the employers withhold taxes if the workers do not have Social Security numbers?

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Larry 4 years, 1 month ago

Exactly my thought artichokeheart.

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Grundoon Luna 4 years, 1 month ago

They are using someone else's SSN. This happens all the time! They are also establishing credit using someone elses SSN but their own name. The e-verify system is not set up to reject when the name doesn't match the SSN and it should be. There should be a photo included on the Social Security Card as well. If you start screaming about the start up costs of making these additions to the SS card then you cannot be taken seriosuly about your desire to curb illegal immigration. I don't fault someone for trying to take care of their family. I fault employers for exploiting workers which these meat packing plants have done for decades. In spite of e-verify they know they are hiring illegals. The illegals know they can get a job and that's why they come. A National ID Card has been suggested before but was vehemently opposed by conservatives screaming about costs and civil liberties and now look what's happening. Well, what could have been a proactive step at one point in time may now be a desperate measure to resolve a critical problem.

One of those plants is in West Point, NE where I have a lot of family and attend a bi-annual reunion there. In the past I usuall stayed in Fremont because it's closer than Omaha but I will not anymore. I have no problem with trying to curb illegal immigration but these laws are not the answer. What I stated above is. We do not have a comprehensive ID system at the Federal level and we need it.

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kernal 4 years, 1 month ago

If you buy drugs, whether it's pot or hard drugs, you are supporting the drug cartels and their thugs. You contribute to the kidnappings, slavery of families in South America and the killings. Think about that with every puff and hit you take.

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SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 1 month ago

If we had a comprehensive federal immigration policy combined with real border control and enforcement of existing immigration laws, the state of Arizona and cities like Freemont, NE wouldn't need to pass such tough new laws.

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giveitsomethought 4 years, 1 month ago

I won't deny that it is a federal issue, but that doesn't mean we should just ignore it either. This has Nothing to do with race in any way. Illegal is illegal. I don't care where an illegal is from. If they want to be here go through the process or get out.

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texburgh 4 years, 1 month ago

It has everything to do with race. Would this be a problem if there were illegals from Canada or England or Australia? No. The fact is that the Hispanic population has grown dramatically in Fremont as meatpackers bring them in to work in their plants. Everywhere these laws are considered it's because Spanish speaking immigrants have come in. Some certainly are illegal but those who support these laws just assume they all are. If you want to stop illegal immigration, go after employers. Set wage, benefit, and working condition laws that make meatpacking work safe and pay enough to live a decent life in America. You want cheap steaks? You're helping to recruit illegals because they work for less than you want your own children to be paid. Low pay, poor or non-existent benefits, and unsafe working conditions is what keeps citizens out of those jobs. Change labor laws to favor workers and you'll see illegal immigration dry up.

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UfoPilot 4 years, 1 month ago

our military could and should protect our borders.

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jaywalker 4 years, 1 month ago

"To Velez, the vote a day earlier in Fremont to ban hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants sent a clear message: “We’re not welcome here,” said Velez, a native of Mexico who became a U.S. citizen in 1985."

Sorry, Mr. Velez, that you mistakenly feel that way but that's simply not true. Come legally to open arms. You did it right.

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ivalueamerica 4 years, 1 month ago

This same law has been declared un Constitutional twice. I guess this little town has a lot of extra time and money to fight a loosing battle just to make a point.

A more wise community would find a way to stop illegal immigration without openly violating the Constitution and making lawyers rich.

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jaywalker 4 years, 1 month ago

"This same law" has also been upheld by a federal appeals court, ivalue, for Valley Park, Mo. And the two you cite are under appeal at present.

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jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

The 14 amendment, which you claim these laws violate, has to do with the rights of American citizens.

Not illegal aliens.

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ivalueamerica 4 years, 1 month ago

jafs, the law requires Citizens to prove citizenship in a manor not conducted by the Federal Government, but using state and local interpretation.

Unless you can prove that no Citizen will be forced to prove citizenship, it is a violation of of the 14th Amendment. That also violates the Federal only mandate that state and local entities can not write or enforce Federal law.

It is pretty clear.

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jaywalker 4 years, 1 month ago

Yet it's been upheld. Nope, not so "clear." And if you're going to keep singing the same song, at least learn the lyrics. It's about "due process", not proving citizenship. For the love....

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been_there 4 years, 1 month ago

In a discussion the other day about illegal vs legal immigrants, I was told that one reason immigrants have to enter illegally is that it is too hard to enter legally because they have to have a sponsor, one that is willing to provide for them financially if they do not have money to live on. If this is indeed the problem, wouldn't a simple solution be for the people who feel illegal immigration should be permitted sponsor immigrants so they can come legally? That way the sponsor provides financial support thus reducing the strain on government programs and ensuring the immigrants are not crimminals. Just a thought.

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tomatogrower 4 years, 1 month ago

Good idea, but would the government raise the quotas and simplify the paperwork to make it easier.

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been_there 4 years, 1 month ago

I think I remember churches in Lawrence doing this for Vietnamese refugees back when the Vietnam war ended.

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