In a small town less than an hour’s drive from Omaha, Nebraska, residents are sending a powerful message to its undocumented population to let them know that they’re not welcome. On Tuesday, Fremont residents voted to keep a 2010 ordinance that requires renters to sign a declaration stating that they are legal residents of the United States and to purchase a $5 occupancy license, which landlords have to check before they rent property. The 2010 ordinance made it unlawful to hire, rent to, or otherwise “harbor” an undocumented person.
After 57 percent of voters approved the referendum in 2010, the ordinance was put on hold while the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed it. The court eventually upheld the ordinance, which will go into effect 30 days after the results of the special election are “certified as final,” but it will likely face a U.S. Supreme Court appeal.
Fremont’s ordinance has divided its residents who have had to “bear the financial burden” of the legal challenges through property taxes. Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also said that Fremont could lose out on future federal funding and may have to return previously received grants since the ordinance could be seen as an impediment to fair housing choices.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, court challenges to local ordinances have “contributed to a slowdown in the number of communities looking to pass them.” In both Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas, two federal circuit courts struck down similar anti-immigration ordinances which prohibited renting to undocumented immigrants, charging that they had breached federal supremacy over immigration. If immigration advocacy groups lose their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over the Fremont ordinance, more cities could move to pass similar anti-immigration ordinances. Kris Kobach, who helped to draft the Fremont ordinance, said to the Journal, “A Supreme Court ruling on the matter will eliminate the uncertainty.”
Kobach is behind the draconian Arizona and Alabama 2010 anti-immigration laws, both of which were partially invalidated by a Supreme Court ruling, and he has been one of the strongest voices in anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures. The Fremont ordinance had the backing of an immigration-restrictionist group called “Our Vote Should Count,” which according to the Fremont Tribune is supported by “the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Tea Party Patriots … and other national organizations, including a Washington, D.C.-based analyst and an Omaha media consultant.” According to Right Wing Watch, “Our Vote Should Count” is driven by racial motivations to pursue the ordinance, even going so far as to post a Facebook graphic warning that Fremont had become a “sanctuary city” because its “Hispanic population tripled in 10 years.”
Laurel Marsh, the ACLU Nebraska director, said “If this law goes into effect, it will cause discrimination and racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear to be foreign born, including U.S. citizens.” That kind of racial tension was felt by one third-generation Latino woman who was told by a man to go back to Mexico.
Fremont has a population of 26,167, a figure that includes an estimated 1,015 undocumented immigrants. And the Hispanic population in the city has grown from 165 in 1990 to 3,149 in 2010, while the statewide Hispanic population skyrocketed from 1,000 in 1990 to 16,000 today. The nearby Hormel food plant recruits large numbers of low-paid line (and undocumented) workers.