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Fremont, Nebraska Votes to Ban Illegal Immigrants

The small town of Fremont, Nebraska joined the national debate over immigration when it voted Monday to ban companies from hiring illegal aliens, and landlords from renting to them. Unofficial results found about 57% of the town of 25,000 voted in favor of the new law.

But supporters might want to keep the cork on the champagne. Similar laws passed in at least two other towns in the nation were struck down in the courts. And already, the American Civil Liberties Union says it will file a lawsuit to overturn it.

"Our goal would be to bring an action to ensure that there is not even one day that the law can go into effect," said Amy Miller, legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska.

At first glance, there seems to be no problem in Fremont as far as jobs. The unemployment rate is 4.9% -- the same as the rest of Nebraska, and nearly half of the national unemployment rate of 9.7%.

However, the mostly white town has seen its Hispanic population surge over the past two decades, from 165 in 1990 to an estimated 2000 today, in part because of jobs available at the nearby Fremont Beef and Hormel meatpacking plants. But residents cringe when it is suggested there is a racial or ethnic motive here.

"It has nothing to do with being racist," lifetime Fremont resident Clint Walraven said. "We all have to play by the same rules. If you want to stay here, get legal."

Not everyone in Fremont feels the same way. "This country has been founded on waves of immigration," Rachel Fleming said. "I just think it's (the ordinance) contrary to the spirit of the country."

It is unlikely the law will ever take effect. In 2006, voters in Hazelton, Pennsylvania approved a nearly identical measure as Fremont's. But a federal judge overturned it, saying that immigration laws should be left solely to the federal government.

In 2008, a federal judge ruled a similar law in Farmers Branch, Texas was unconstitutional.

Supporters say since the federal government is doing nothing about illegal immigration, cities and towns have to take matters into their own hands.

"Because of the absence of the feds doing anything, there's a lot of financial, cultural, political strains that are occurring [in cities and states]," said Gregory Minchak of the National League of Cities. "They are just starting to act on their own." 

If the law were ever implemented, potential renters would have to apply for a license to rent a place. The application process would force Fremont officials to check if the people are in the country legally. If they are found to be illegal, they will not be issued a license allowing them to rent. The ordinance would also require businesses to use the federal E-Verify database to ensure employees are allowed to work.


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