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Nebraska town hit with 2 lawsuits

Groups seek to block ban on hiring, housing of illegal aliens

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Two liberal groups each filed lawsuits Wednesday against the town of Fremont, Neb., in order to put a stop to its new ordinance banning people from hiring illegal immigrants or renting homes to them.

Mirroring arguments made against Arizona's immigration crackdown, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the American Civil Liberties Union claim the ordinance encourages racial profiling against Hispanics or other U.S. citizens who may appear to be foreign-born, and also intrudes on federal prerogatives.

The lawsuits claim Fremont's ordinance is at odds with the constitutional mandate imposing a uniform federal immigration-enforcement system. They also accuse the ordinance of violating the federal Fair Housing Act and the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

"Divisive ordinances like these tear communities apart," said Jennifer Chang Newell, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "It's time to stop promoting discriminatory policies like these so that we can come together to find a national approach to immigration."

MALDEF did not return numerous phone calls for a comment regarding this matter.

Bob Hartwig, the Fremont city administrator, said the city has barely viewed the lawsuits.

He said he really had no position on the matter and that it was a resident-initiated petition, in which they went around collecting signatures.

"These lawsuits may affect the implementation of the policy," Mr. Hartwig said.

Dean Skokan, Fremont city attorney, told reporters in Nebraska that while he had not yet seen these lawsuits, he had no doubt the town of about 25,000 people should "expect a minimum of about three lawsuits."

Fremont's ordinance is a reaction to a recent influx of immigrants attracted to the area by the large number of jobs available at nearby meatpacking plants.

Those who support and voted for the law thought federal law enforcement has been lax and that the ordinance was a way of keeping illegal immigration in check.

Federal laws provides specific rules and guidelines that determine whether someone is or is not allowed to live in this country, Mrs. Newell said, and the city of Fremont is in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution by taking a national matter into its own hands, and making it merely a municipal matter.

"Our country is about due process, and the Constitution protects all people on its soil, regardless of their citizenship," she said. "The power lies with the nation, not with a small city of 25,000 people."

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