Some Nebraska residents suspicious of motives behind possible immigration ordinance delay

By Margery A. Beck, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Nebraska town could delay immigration ordinance

FREMONT, Neb. — Suspicious supporters of a Nebraska town’s ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants planned to listen closely Tuesday as city officials considered suspending the voter-approved measure amid two federal lawsuits.

The Fremont City Council narrowly rejected the ban in 2008, prompting supporters to gather enough signatures for the ballot measure. Approved by voters last month, the ordinance has divided the community between those who say it makes up for what they call lax federal law enforcement and others who argue it could fuel discrimination.

Council members insist any suspension would be aimed at saving money on the city’s legal defense, but some ban supporters remain skeptical.

“They see it as another attempt by the city to block this ordinance,” said Jerry Hart, a Fremont resident who petitioned for the ballot measure and planned to attend the Tuesday night council vote on suspending the ban.

The city faces lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund. A federal judge was to consider Wednesday whether to grant an injunction to temporarily block the ban from taking effect Thursday as scheduled.

City officials have estimated Fremont’s costs of implementing the ordinance — including legal fees, employee overtime and improved computer software — would average $1 million a year.

Council president Scott Getzschman said it’s not clear how much money the city would save by suspending enforcement of the ordinance. He insisted the council is only trying limit legal costs, even if the savings are small.

“It just boils down to the fact that the restraining order and injunction is imminent,” Getzschman said. “And as the city of Fremont, we’re looking at ways of reducing costs.”

Betty Faux, 69, who owns a lake house just outside the 25,000-resident community, where dozens of homes along a main residential street flew American flags Tuesday, said that’s not a good enough argument.

“I think they should go ahead with it; especially since they’ve got somebody who will represent them for free,” Faux said, referring to Kansas City, Kan.-based attorney Kris Kobach, who drafted the Fremont ordinance and has said he would represent Fremont free of charge to fight lawsuits filed over the ordinance.

Kobach also helped write the Arizona law that directs officers to question people about their immigration status during the enforcement of other laws such as traffic stops and if there’s a reasonable suspicion they’re in the U.S. illegally.

City officials have not yet chosen any attorney to defend Fremont, but Kobach already has helped put Hart’s mind at ease.

“My first reaction when I heard about the City Council’s plans was, I was upset,” Hart said. “But I talked to Kris Kobach, and he said it will actually make it easier for the city to defend itself against the lawsuits if it temporarily stops the law from going into effect.”

Kobach told The Associated Press on Tuesday that if the council delayed implementation, it would mean fewer court hearings in the litigation process, making the process of hearing the lawsuits shorter and cheaper for the city.

The ordinance has put Fremont on the list with Arizona and other places in the national debate over immigration regulations. Arizona’s sweeping law also takes effect Thursday.

The ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund say the Fremont ordinance amounts to discrimination.

It would require employers to use a federal online system that checks whether a person is permitted to work in the U.S.

It also would require people seeking to rent property to apply for a $5 permit at City Hall. Those who said they were citizens would receive a permit and would not have to provide documents proving legal status. Those who said they weren’t citizens would receive permits, but their legal status would be checked. If they’re found to be in the country illegally and are unable to resolve their status, they would be forced to leave the property.

Landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants could be subject to $100 fines.

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