Nebraska city suspends immigration law, goes to court

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FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska city suspended its voter-approved ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants, but opponents still want a federal judge to block the ordinance until all legal fights are resolved.

Groups challenging the ordinance are expected in court Wednesday, a day after the Fremont City Council voted to suspended the ban. City officials said delaying the ordinance would save the city money as it fights lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund.

The groups, which call the ban discriminatory, along with attorneys for the city will ask a federal judge to block the ordinance pending a final court resolution, the ACLU said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.

“We’re relieved that the Fremont City Council will suspend this discriminatory ordinance while it’s being litigated,” said Amy Miller, the ACLU of Nebraska’s legal director. “It was a responsible decision that will spare residents of Fremont from worrying about losing housing and jobs because of their appearance and accent pending a final resolution by the court.”

The ordinance has put Fremont on the list with Arizona and other places in the national debate over immigration regulations.The city council voted 8-0 to delay the ban at a meeting late Tuesday that attracted about 100 people, and some told council members that the ordinance has already led to divisiveness.

“This law is not yet in effect, but it is increasing conflict and discrimination,” Lesley Velez, 20, of Fremont said.

But others said the council shouldn’t second-guess voters.

“The citizens of Fremont have spoken. We should not delay this,” said Terry Flanagan, a Fremont resident who supports the ban.

The council narrowly rejected the ban in 2008, prompting supporters to gather enough signatures for the ballot measure. Voters approved the ban last month and it was scheduled to take effect Thursday.

Council members also unanimously decided Tuesday to hire Kansas-based attorney and law professor Kris Kobach, who drafted the ordinance and offered to represent Fremont for free to fight the lawsuits. Kobach also helped write Arizona’s new controversial immigration law.

Mr. Kobach said before the vote Tuesday that if the council delayed implementation, it would mean fewer court hearings over the lawsuits and make the process shorter and cheaper for the city. He didn’t immediately return a message after the vote.

Fremont, about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, is among a handful of Nebraska cities that have seen marked demographic changes primarily because of an influx Hispanic workers at meatpacking plants. And illegal immigration has stirred strong opinions among its 25,000 residents.

The ordinance has divided the community between those who say it makes up for what they call lax federal law enforcement and others who argue it could fuel discrimination.

Although council members have insisted that any suspension would be aimed at saving money, some ban supporters remained skeptical.

“They see it as another attempt by the city to block this ordinance,” said Jerry Hart, a Fremont resident who petitioned for the ballot measure but supported the suspension based on Kobach’s suggestion.

City officials have estimated Fremont’s costs of implementing the ordinance — including legal fees, employee overtime and improved computer software — would average $1 million a year.

Fremont’s ordinance would require employers to use a federal online system that checks whether a person is permitted to work in the U.S.

It also would require people seeking to rent property to apply for a $5 permit at City Hall. Those who said they were citizens would receive a permit and would not have to provide documents proving legal status. Those who said they weren’t citizens would receive permits, but their legal status would be checked. If they’re found to be in the country illegally and are unable to resolve their status, they would be forced to leave the property.

Landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants could be subject to $100 fines.

Arizona’s law, which is set to take effect Thursday, directs officers to question people about their immigration status during the enforcement of other laws such as traffic stops and if there’s a reasonable suspicion they’re in the U.S. illegally.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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