Nebraska city starts licenses aimed at immigrants

AP News
Posted: Apr 10, 2014 6:06 PM
Nebraska city starts licenses aimed at immigrants

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The small Nebraska city of Fremont started requiring licenses Thursday for anyone who wants to rent there as part of rules aimed at restricting illegal immigration.

Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said two applications were submitted Thursday morning and both people received licenses after paying the $5 fee and filling out a form declaring whether they have legal permission to live in the country. Those were the only applications submitted by Thursday afternoon.

"The press is outnumbering applicants 10-to-1 at this point," Elliott said Thursday.

Nearly four years after voters first approved the ordinance, the city of 26,000 people about 30 miles northwest of Omaha began enforcing the housing restrictions.

Fremont has drawn national attention as one of a handful of communities that have tried to implement their own rules to limit illegal immigration. Voters in the city affirmed the housing restrictions again in a February election.

Civil rights groups challenged the rules in court, but a federal appeals court upheld Fremont's ordinance last year. So unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the housing rules will be enforced.

The civil rights groups and housing officials say they are monitoring the process of granting the licenses for any problems or examples of discrimination. They're also holding educational meetings for Fremont residents.

"We're just crossing our fingers and hoping everybody plays by the rules," said Joe Garcia, director of the Fair Housing Center of Nebraska and Iowa.

Michelle Knapp, who has helped organize the meetings, said there's a lot of confusion about what the ordinance requires at this point. For instance, Knapp said some landlords were asking tenants for permits before the rule even took effect.

The city of Fremont has spent $184,050 defending its immigration ordinance between the initial approval in 2010 and last fall. The total hasn't been updated for the current fiscal year, but the numbers remain relatively modest because the lawyer who helped draft the rules, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has defended the city for free.

Critics of the ordinance remain worried that enforcing the housing rules will lead to additional lawsuits against Fremont and landlords that could be costly.

And the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development warned last year that Fremont could lose community-development grants that have been worth $7.1 million over the past 15 years.

Ever since 2012, Fremont has been enforcing the other half of the city'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.

That requirement has proven less controversial, partly because many larger employers were already using that federal E-Verify system before the ordinance was adopted.