Neb. city keeps rules aimed at illegal immigration

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 11, 2014 at 10:40 pm •  Published: February 11, 2014
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FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — Residents of a small Nebraska city voted Tuesday to keep regulations that require all renters to swear they have legal permission to live in the U.S., likely pushing the city back into the forefront of the immigration debate.

Fremont voters decided to keep an ordinance that they originally adopted in 2010. Critics had said the rules were less effective and more costly than anyone expected and were damaging the city's image. But 59.6 of local voters — more than the 57 percent in favor four years ago — sided Tuesday with supporters, who say Fremont needed to take a stand against illegal immigration.

The conservative agricultural hub near Omaha that is home to about 26,000 residents is one of a handful of cities that have acted on their own over the last decade to curb illegal immigration. Most of those efforts, including ones in Hazelton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Texas, have become mired in costly court battles.

The same is true in Fremont, where the ordinance — which requires immigrants seeking rental property to swear they have permission to live in the U.S. — was put on hold after it was first adopted while courts reviewed the law.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the ordinance in 2013, and the city was getting ready to enforce the housing restrictions for the first time last fall when elected officials decided to schedule another vote.

"I don't see why we have to vote on this again just because the City Council has a vested interest," said local resident Matt Kwiatkowski, who voted to keep the housing restrictions in place, referring to the fact that at least two council members own rental property.

The 48-year-old said he doesn't have any problem with immigrants who come to this country legally, but he doesn't think the U.S. should go easy on people living here illegally. He hopes Fremont's ordinance will help increase pressure on the federal government to do something about illegal immigration.

"I think more towns need to do this given that the federal government isn't doing its job," Kwiatkowski said.

John Wiegert, who helped organize the petition drive that put the ordinance on the ballot in 2010, said he wasn't surprised because so many people were upset that city officials scheduled a second vote.

"The mayor and city council need to listen to the people," Wiegert said. "The people have spoken twice."

Critics said the housing restrictions would be ineffective and might cost Fremont millions of dollars in legal fees and lost federal grants, but that didn't persuade enough voters.

Civil rights groups said they were now planning to closely monitor Fremont's implementation of the rules.

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