Posted on June 23, 2010

Nebraskan Ordinance Adds Fuel to US Immigration Debate

Anna Fifield, Financial Times (London), June 23, 2010

US efforts to counter its illegal immigration problem have become more complicated, with the small Nebraska city of Fremont voting to ban undocumented people from taking jobs or renting property.

The ban, approved on Monday night by 57 per cent of voters in an eastern Nebraska city far from the Mexican border, is the latest example of communities taking immigration matters into their own hands.

It will increase concerns in the US administration and among civil liberties advocates about the patchwork of state regulations that is appearing because of federal inaction.

Arizona passed a controversial law in April that allows police officers to request immigration documents from anyone they stop, raising fears of racial profiling.

The US administration is expected to next week file a lawsuit against Arizona over the law, on the basis that immigration is the constitutional responsibility of the federal government.

The Fremont ordinance means that people will have to apply for a licence before they can rent property, and the application process will require immigration documents. It also mandates employers to check whether people are eligible to work using the federal government’s “E-Verify” database.

Fremont, a meat-packing town with about 25,000 residents, has seen its Hispanic population rise from about 165 people in 1990 to an estimated 2,060.

Some of those who voted for the initiative said it would help ensure jobs went to legal residents who were unemployed.

“It has nothing to do with being racist,” Clint Walraven, a 51-year-old who has lived in Fremont all his life, told the Associated Press. “We all have to play by the same rules. . . If you want to stay here, get legal.”

Nebraska has an unemployment rate of 4.9 per cent, about half the national rate.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would sue to block the ordinance before it takes effect.

“If this law goes into effect, it will cause discrimination and racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear to be foreign born, including US citizens,” said Laurel Marsh, executive director of ACLU’s Nebraska branch.

Immigration reform advocates said the Fremont ordinance was “bad news”.

Barack Obama, when campaigning for the presidency two years ago, pledged to act on immigration reform. But his administration, encumbered with higher priorities such as fixing the economy and reforming healthcare, has put immigration on the back burner.

In spite of increasing calls for it to act on immigration, the prospects for passing a comprehensive reform bill are not auspicious.

Analysts say it would be impossible for Democrats and Republicans alike to tackle the issue before the November midterm elections. Things might not get better next year, if Republicans succeed in taking control of either chamber.

Angered by a recent influx of Hispanic workers attracted by jobs at local meatpacking plants, voters in the eastern Nebraska city of Fremont will decide Monday whether to ban hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants.


A man who helped write the Arizona law is helping to fight for the ordinance in Fremont, which has seen its Hispanic population surge in the past two decades. That increase is largely because they were recruited to work for the Fremont Beef and Hormel plants, and the city maintains an enviably low unemployment rate.

Nonetheless, residents worry that jobs are going to illegal immigrants who they fear could drain community resources.

{snip} Discussions on the issue can get heated, he [a long-time Fremont resident] said, particularly if racism is mentioned.

“It has nothing to do with being racist,” he said. “We all have to play by the same rules. . . . If you want to stay here, get legal.”

When he worked at the Hormel plant in the 1980s, Walraven said, he had one Hispanic co-worker.