Nebraska City’s 2010 Anti-Immigrant Ordinance Comically Off Target, and Irritating to Business

The City of Fremont, Nebraska is providing a good case study on how anti-immigration efforts can backfire. Despite the fact that, according to this article, no one in Fremont has any idea how many of its 1,259 non-citizens are illegal immigrants, (or if there are any at all) anti-immigrant petitioners managed to get a referendum passed in 2010 that requires companies to verify the citizenship status of the people they hire, while forcing renters to swear to landlords that they are legal residents and pay a $5 fee for the pleasure.

But the law doesn’t really do much of anything other than irritate the local business community and antagonize the city’s Hispanic residents. A federal judge threw out part  of it, (because it was in conflict with federal law), making the rental verification piece utterly toothless (the city isn’t allowed to revoke the rental permits if applicants actually turn out to be illegal immigrants); and the hiring verification piece won’t have any effect beyond the city limits of Fremont, which is where most of the immigrant population in the area actually lives and works.

Meanwhile, business owners hate the new rules:

“I’ve spoken to a few businesses owners about it, and … they definitely feel this is just another burden for them,” [mayoral candidate] Paden said. “I don’t feel that it should be up to the businesses to police these matters. We have federal agencies that should be handling that. All this ordinance is now is another hoop to jump through.”

Ron Tillery, with the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, questioned Tuesday how effective the ordinance will be. Most of Fremont’s businesses already comply with the E-Verify requirements, he said, and the new housing permits seem to serve little purpose in the wake of the judge’s ruling. He said the city will incur costs to process the rental permits but won’t be allowed to act on the information and deny any permits.

The article also notes that the City Council president, mayor, city attorney and city administrator have all resigned within the last year, suggesting that the fallout from the ordinance is to blame.

So if the law is largely toothless, opposed by the business community, and poison to political leaders in town, what is the point of it?

Petition organizer Jerry Hart said he knows the ordinance won’t eliminate illegal immigration, but he hopes it will inspire other cities and states to act.

“Our goal when we started was just to get the issue to a vote of the people,” Hart said. “The people of Fremont let it be known that they don’t want illegal immigrants in their community.” (my emphasis)

A local grocery owner says, according the article, that the ordinance “is not about illegal (immigrants). It’s about race. The people behind it don’t want Hispanics here.”