The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 7, 2014

Nebraska town's anti-immigration rule stands, but furor persists

Immigrants flocked to the meatpacking plants surrounding Fremont, Neb., during the last decade, nearly tripling the local Latino population and prompting some city leaders to propose an ordinance that would ban renting to those in the country illegally.

The lasting, public outrage that followed shocked many in the mild-mannered Midwestern outpost of 26,000 people about 30 miles northwest of Omaha.

“Conflict is uncomfortable — especially when it’s with people you work with or live near and have to see at the grocery store,” said Virginia Meyer, 27, a mother of two who eventually fought the ordinance.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the ordinance adopted in 2010, a triumph for supporters who predicted more cities would follow their lead. Appeals courts in other states, however, have blocked similar ordinances, and cities may wonder whether it was worth the uproar.

“It would be reckless for any city to undertake an ordinance like this,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sued to block it.

He said the ordinance, which took effect April 10, “shreds human relations.” It requires renters to purchase a $5 permit from the city and swear that they have permission to live in the United States legally.

The Supreme Court has often avoided addressing controversial immigration cases, leaving the matter to states and Congress to resolve.

The justices declined to address similar ordinances that lower courts struck down, seemingly setting up a conflict with the current case, said David Weber, a law professor at Creighton University in Omaha.

“They purposely ducked the question,” said Weber, who lives near Fremont and has witnessed how divisive the ordinance has become.

“We’re so homogenous that these fault lines are starting to develop,” and the question remains, he added, “How do these states, especially in the Midwest, that have been so homogenous for so much time, deal with these issues of assimilation and immigration that the border states have been dealing with for years?”

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