Saturday, September 26, 2020

Nebraska City Passes Anti-Immigrant Measure

Arizona Watch

As reported yesterday in La Plaza , the city of Fremont, Nebraska was considering a local ordinance to make it illegal to hire or rent to an undocumented immigrant.  The measure passed last night 57 to 43 percent.

The new law was authored by a Republican candidate for Secretary of State in Kansas, Kris Kobach, who also helped draft Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. (Correction, yesterday, La Plaza incorrectly identified Kobach as a candidate for Attorney General).  Kobach is a self described, “law professor who defends cities and states that are trying to reduce illegal immigration.” (La Plaza)

While the intent is similar to Arizona’s law, the situation of this Midwestern town of 25,000 is different.  Drawn by work in the surrounding meatpacking plants, Fremont’s Hispanic population has increased over the past two decades.  Even with a population increase and hard economic time, the city has an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent — just a little over half of what the national average is.  And while proponents have argued that the estimated 2,000 undocumented residents of Fremont are “stealing jobs” and the source of all the town’s crime, there is no data to reflect substantiate these claims.

For their part, Latino immigrants report being the regular subject of open hostility and racial slurs, making some wonder if the real source of the outcry is discomfort over changing demographics in this previously homogenous locale.

Kristin Ostrom, a local resident who actively opposed the measure, attributed fear as the reason for its support. “Fear is kind of guiding,” said Ostrom.  She also believes that the highly charged rhetoric of the national immigration debate and what is going on in Arizona “has fanned the misconception that all Hispanic immigrants in Fremont are illegal.”

From the beginning of the debate, however, the proposal did not have the support of local leaders, who understood that passing such a measure was going to lead very likely to litigation.  They cited costs as reason not to pursue action.  Despite this, anti-immigrant activists pursued the issue all the way to the Nebraska State Supreme Court paving the way for yesterday’s vote.

Already, the ACLU has announced plans to sue Fremont, and the Washington Post reports that city officials estimate that implementing and enforcing the new ordinance will cost the city at least $1 million a year.  Already, they are speculating that they will need to raise taxes or cut services in order to cover the costs.

Ironically, the meatpacking plants, which have been the source of ire on the part of local activists and the reason for Latino workers moving to the area, lie outside the city limits and will not be subject to the new ordinance.