By Lindsey Peterson, KVNO News
September 13th, 2012

The growing Hispanic population and its influence can be seen throughout Fremont. (Photo credit NET Radio)

Omaha, NE – The city of Fremont, Neb. is still in the midst of a court battle defending a voter-approved anti-illegal immigration ordinance. While most of it is held up in district court, portions have gone into effect.

“We have to maintain our culture. We’re selling our culture down [the] drain, we don’t have any standards anymore.”

Greg Casady was one of roughly 15 anti-illegal immigration protestors who stood outside a Bellevue, Neb. IHOP last year. Casady waved to passers-by and held a sign that read “Secure borders, no amnesty, English only.” Another protestor, Brian, is a Fremont, Nebr. resident. He said he came out to protest illegal immigration in Fremont because his employer hires illegal immigrants.

“We have Americans that are unemployed,” he said, “and the illegals are working here for cheap labor, driving down wages, and work conditions are getting lower and lower because these people come here.”

In June of 2010, voters of Fremont agreed with that sentiment. Residents approved a multi-pronged ordinance to curb illegal immigration within the city. The ordinance requires all Fremont businesses to check new hires’ eligibility to work in the U.S. through the E-Verify system, a federally sponsored program. The ordinance also bans renting to or housing illegal immigrants. It states renters must apply for an occupancy license each time they rent and sign an affidavit swearing their legal status.

Immediately after voters approved the measure, organizations such as the Nebraska ACLU stepped in, filing a lawsuit to stop it from taking effect. Opponents said any local or state ordinance tackling illegal immigration violates current federal law.

Over two years later, most of the ordinance is still tied up in court.

In February of this year, the Fremont City Council voted to move ahead with the E-Verify. The council was confident that provision would be upheld in court. The city gave businesses a May 4 deadline to comply, but they have yet to enforce that.

Omaha immigration attorney Amy Peck questions the intentions of the authors of the ordinance. (Photo courtesy Peck Law)

“It’s that whole ‘not in my backyard’ type of mindset,” said Joe Garcia, the Program Director for The Fair Housing Center of Nebraska and Iowa. Last week, along with the National Council of La Raza and the National Fair Housing Alliance, Garcia filed “friend of the court” briefs to the Court of Appeals stating the ordinance is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

“It’s the old, ‘they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our housing’,” Garcia said. “Well, what job have you lost to someone that’s not from this country? Please, be specific here. What job did you lose, what house did you lose? What rental property did you lose to somebody of a different color? “uh,uh,uh” They don’t have nothing.”

Garcia added the ordinance requires tenants to apply for their occupancy license at the Fremont police station, and he argued that is a form of intimidation. He maintains that the Federal government, not local government should be responsible for tackling illegal immigration. Amy Peck is an Omaha immigration attorney, and in an interview last year, she agreed. “It will fail under the federal pre-emption argument,” she said. “Those laws have been failing all over the United States, in my mind, that’s very clear.”

Peck questioned the intentions of the authors of the ordinance, specifically author Kris Kobach. Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State and has authored several immigration bills around the country. She said Kobach, and organizations associated with him, are in it for the money. “So you’ve got to wonder, why people are falling for this music man approach,” Peck said. “They come into town, they say ‘Oh this is the greatest thing,’ and then there’s lawsuits.”

Kansas Sec. of State, Kris Kobach, authored the Fremont ordinance and currently represents the city in court. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

“And who wins?” she added. “The people who proposed the law in the first place because they get millions of dollars in attorney’s fees.”

As of August 31, the city of Fremont has paid Kobach roughly $39,000 since early 2011. In an earlier interview with KVNO News, Secretary Kobach said he doesn’t encourage municipalities or states to author ordinances, but rather is approached by local and state governments to help them. “The motivation behind these city and state ordinances…is usually we have a problem in our jurisdiction, whether that problem is unemployment among us citizens, or more often illegal immigration has caused a huge hole in the city’s budget or the state’s finances,” he said.

The city of Fremont has budgeted $450,000 for the E-Verify startup costs. The attorney’s office is currently creating a database of all businesses that would be required to adopt the E-Verify system. The city of Fremont, along with some local businesses, have offered to help train employers how to use it. Fremont City Attorney Paul Payne says there’s been little push back from area businesses.

But Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ron Tillery says there are unhappy business and property owners who feel the requirements produce an unnecessary burden. The Chamber did not support the ordinance. Tillery said he doesn’t understand the motivation behind the ordinance other than “a small number of motivated voters” were able to pass an ordinance that few voters turned out for. Around 7,500 voters out of Fremont’s 26,000 residents came to the polls. Approximately 3,500 voted in support of the measure.

But the battle over the Fremont ordinance does not show any signs of slowing down. One of last year’s protesters, who asked to remain anonymous, assured they were not going anywhere. “The problem is growing and the government fails to do anything about it,” she said. “So it takes grassroots people like ourselves to come out and make statements, you know, to make the government listen.”

“This has got to stop. With America out of work, this is wrong.”

Portions of Fremont anti-Illegal immigration ordinance go into effect - KVNO News - KVNO News