- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The small Nebraska city of Fremont has made its first arrest related to an ordinance requiring renters to obtain a license and swear they have legal permission to live in the country.

The arrest involved a protester - a Washington state man who grew up in Nebraska and was arrested Friday on suspicion of trespassing when he refused to leave Fremont’s city offices after they closed. Otherwise, local officials say the process has been going smoothly.

Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said more than 200 rental licenses have been issued to people who applied and paid the $5 fee since the city started the process on April 10.

“We have not experienced any particular problems that I’m aware of,” Elliott said.


Only applicants who say they aren’t U.S. citizens are investigated. Elliott says fewer than 10 of the applications warranted that follow up by checking with a federal database.

Fremont’s effort to restrict illegal immigration has attracted national attention because the city of about 26,000 roughly 30 miles northwest of Omaha is one of only a handful of cities that have tried to tackle the issue.

Critics argue that Fremont’s rules are ineffective and have hurt the city’s image, but voters have backed the ordinance twice - in 2010 and in February.

Lyle George said he was bothered by Fremont’s ordinance from afar because he believes it is discriminatory and hurts Nebraska’s reputation. So the 57-year-old Seattle resident staged a one-man protest while he was in the area visiting family.

“I’m trying to shine a bright light on this situation. I don’t think this is a valid law,” said George, who plans to fight the trespassing charge.

Civil rights groups challenged the rules in court, but a federal appeals court upheld Fremont’s ordinance last year and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Those groups and housing officials have held educational meetings for Fremont residents, and they promise to watch for any examples of discrimination.

Tyler Richard with the American Civil Liberties Union Nebraska said it’s unlikely that a new lawsuit challenging the ordinance will be filed quickly because extensive evidence of discrimination will be needed.

It’s hard to determine how many people might live in Fremont illegally. Census figures say the town is home to 1,150 noncitizens. That figure includes immigrants who do not have permission to be in the U.S., as well as lawful permanent residents, foreign students and refugees who are legally in the U.S.

Another section of Fremont’s immigration ordinance that requires employers to use a federal online system to check whether prospective employees are permitted to work in the U.S. has been in place since 2012. Many larger employers, including the major meatpacking plants just outside Fremont, were already using that federal E-Verify system before the ordinance was adopted.