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Vol. 78/No. 10      March 17, 2014

Anti-immigrant housing law approved in Nebraska town
FREMONT, Neb. — “I have been living here since 1996, and I can see how racism divides people instead of fixing the problem,” said construction worker Gustavo Vallin. He was commenting on a recent referendum upholding an ordinance aimed at preventing immigrants without legal papers from living here.

Ordinance 5165 was passed through a ballot referendum in 2010. It mandates all employers to check the status of new hires using the U.S. government’s E-Verify database; prohibits landlords and others from “harboring illegal aliens”; and requires renters to get a permit from police by showing citizenship or residency papers and paying $5.

The E-Verify provision was implemented, but the housing restrictions were suspended pending court challenges. After the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the anti-immigrant housing measure in October, the city council organized a referendum Feb. 11 on a proposal to rescind it. Some 3,850 residents voted to keep the law; 2,610 voted to strike it.

The issue has polarized this town of 26,000 where the Latino population has grown to about 12 percent, many of whom work in either the large Hormel plant or Fremont Beef plant in the area.

Opponents of the ordinance here formed Fremont Yes and have passed out literature saying that similar laws have been overturned in Hazleton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Texas.

The mayor, local paper, most city officials and some business interests, including the Chamber of Commerce, campaigned for repeal of the housing provision. The city government website called for residents to repeal it on the grounds that it’s bad for business and costly to defend. But the site also hosts an appeal to donate for legal expenses to defend the law.

Days after the vote, immigration authorities arrested six workers at the Hormel plant here on charges of alleged identity theft.

Opponents of the law are concerned the vote will embolden anti-immigrant forces. The day after the vote, “I was in line paying for gas when an elderly man busted into the line and said to the cashier ‘Are you going to listen to this illegal alien or me?’” said Jennifer Lopez, a student working two jobs. “I said, ‘I work and vote and pay taxes. Don’t talk to me that way. There’s a thing called respect.’”

Many are waiting to see if the city will enforce the provision. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have said they will challenge any incidents of housing discrimination in court.

Ruth Robinett contributed to this article.  
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