LINCOLN, Nebraska — Officials in a small Nebraska city were preparing Wednesday to enforce voter-approved illegal immigration rules, despite the threat of costly federal lawsuits after the measure goes into effect.
Fremont officials said that police will start enforcing the measure 30 days after the results of a special city election are certified. Nearly 60 percent of voters decided Tuesday to keep the ordinance, which requires renters to get a $5 permit and swear they have legal permission to live in the U.S.
Fremont City Council President Jennifer Bixby said officials would respect the voters' decision on the measure, which was first approved by a smaller margin in 2010. Critics pushed for the new vote, saying the housing restrictions would be ineffective and might cost Fremont millions of dollars in legal fees and lost federal grants. They also said it was hurting the city's image.
Bixby said the election helped highlight the potential for future lawsuits against the city and the expense for local taxpayers.
"The council now feels comfortable that the community has knowledge of both the short- and long-term costs to implement this," Bixby said. "... This will directly affect their pocketbooks, and we wanted to make sure that every citizen understood that."
Depending on the timing, the results could be certified at the council's next meetings on Feb. 25 or March 11.
Amy Miller, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said her group will keep close tabs on the city and will consider a new lawsuit if tenants report discrimination. A federal appeals panel upheld the ordinance in June but left an opening for future lawsuits if people can show that the rules have resulted in discrimination.
Fremont is one of only a handful of cities trying to restrict illegal immigration and, like those other cities, has found itself mired in court fights because of the regulations. City leaders put the ordinance on hold after the 2010 vote while courts reviewed it.
Supporters of the ordinance renewed their call Wednesday for city officials to put the measure into effect, saying the decision has been plagued by delays. The conservative, agricultural city of 26,000 residents was getting ready to enforce the housing restrictions for the first time last fall when elected officials decided to schedule another vote.
"We're going to wait and see whether or not the city council will quit fighting the people of Fremont," said Paul VonBehren, an organizer of the group Our Votes Should Count, which fought to keep the ordinance. "The question is whether they'll make the ordinance work."
The housing rules require anyone who rents a home or apartment to apply for a $5 permit and attest to their legal status, but there is no mandate to show proof. New permits are needed for every move, and landlords are required to make sure their tenants have permits or face a $100 fine.
It's not clear how many people live in Fremont illegally. Census figures show 1,150 noncitizens live in the town, including immigrants who don't have permission to be in the U.S. and lawful permanent residents, foreign students and refugees who are legally in the country.
Supporters insist the measure does not target Hispanics, but the topic can make for awkward conversation given Fremont's growing immigrant population. The number of Hispanics jumped from 165 in 1990 to 1,085 in 2000 and 3,149 in 2010, mostly because of jobs at the nearby Hormel and Fremont Beef plants.
When Fremont first adopted the ordinance, the city was thrust into the national spotlight partly because it acted shortly after Arizona's strict immigration law made headlines. A few other cities, such as Valley Park in Missouri, have modified or abandoned ordinances in the face of court challenges and dissent.
Associated Press writer Josh Funk contributed from Omaha