FREMONT, Nebraska — A special election has been scheduled so Fremont residents can decide on whether to remove the city's ban on renting housing to people who aren't in the U.S. legally.
The city council has been considering repealing the housing portion of the ordinance, but on Tuesday night members opted by a 7-1 vote to leave the decision to residents. The special election will be held Feb. 11.
"I just think this ordinance certainly has kind of divided our community for a handful of years now, and it's not about legal or illegal, in my opinion," said council member Jennifer Bixby, who made the motion for the special election. "Right now it's about whether it's Fremont, Nebraska's job to do the federal government's position, what they should be doing for the nation as far as immigration policy."
After a citywide vote in 2010, Fremont adopted bans hiring or renting to people who can't prove they are legally in the United States. The city has been enforcing its requirement that businesses use federal E-verify software to check on potential employees.
The housing portion of the law has been put on hold pending legal challenges. A federal appeals court backed the ordinance in June, but ordinance opponents could appeal.
The ordinance received 57 percent approval in the June 2010 election.
Tuesday night's meeting was marked by sometimes emotional testimony from the public.
"I find it unconscionable that the council would even be considering repeal and ignoring the vote of the people," Gloria Yerger said. "Such actions are a breach of trust and an avoidance of responsibility."
But resident Don Bowen said the ordinance "is a very big black eye to the community" and affecting economic development. He said that as a renter, the ordinance "makes me a second-class citizen," because it would require him to prove he's a U.S. citizen or otherwise a legal resident.
Others who testified said the ordinance was discriminatory and causes harassment of Latinos.
"They say Latinos are the future," said Jose Rodriguez. "Well, actually, Latinos are the present. We're here to stay. We're not going anywhere."