Proposed Ban Stirs Uproar In Fremont

Proposed ban stirs uproar in Fremont

By Cindy Gonzalez
The Omaha World Herald (NE), July 11, 2008

A proposed law aimed at banishing illegal immigrants from Fremont, Neb. believed to be the first such city-sponsored initiative in the state has sparked an outcry from a state agency that advocates for Latinos.

Though Fremont's appears to be the state's first elected city council to propose an ordinance that would ban harboring and renting to illegal immigrants, lawmakers in other U.S. localities have introduced similar initiatives.

Bob Warner, the longtime Fremont councilman who sponsored the proposal, said he did so because residents were 'sick and tired' of what he said was the federal government's lax enforcement of immigration laws.

He said Fremont residents want their own immigration laws.

'I'll fight to the dying end to do what they want,' Warner said. 'I don't know why everybody is making a mountain out of something that is very simple.'

Thursday, the Nebraska Mexican-American Commission issued a statement saying it was disappointed with 'racial and anti-immigrant remarks' made Tuesday at a Fremont City Council meeting. Tuesday was the first opportunity for the public to speak about the ordinance.

Angel Freytez, commission spokesman, said some opponents of the ban left the meeting early because they felt there was inadequate security. One opponent of the ordinance later broke into tears because of the 'hateful' statements, said Freytez, who called the behavior at the meeting 'shameful.'

'Instead of raising the level of dialogue over the immigration issue,' Freytez said, 'they are degrading it.'

Mary Marsh, another council member, said she did not sense uneasiness or feel there was a threatening atmosphere at the meeting.

'People expressed their opinions,' she said. 'That is a given right in the United States of America.'

Marsh was among five of eight council members who had earlier directed the city attorney to draft the ordinance. She said she was undecided how she would vote in August but thought the community should have a say on how the town handles illegal immigration.

The current draft does not include a ban on hiring, but Warner said he wants that included along with penalties for renting to and harboring illegal immigrants.

Fremont officials said no single local event or trend sparked the proposed ordinance.

Rather, Warner said, the frustration he and others had already felt increased after a committee of the Nebraska Legislature prevented full debate on an anti-illegal immigration proposal supported by Gov. Dave Heineman. That compounded irritation with the federal government.

Fremont with a population around 25,000, about 20 minutes west of Omaha includes a Hormel Foods pork processing plant that relies on immigrant labor. Warner said he did not know how many illegal immigrants might be living in the city but said undocumented workers live all over the United States.

Fremont Mayor Donald Edwards said his main concern is that the city enact a law that can withstand legal challenge and is enforceable.

Outgoing State Sen. Ray Aguilar, who is Nebraska's voice on a national immigration commission of state legislators, said he believes the Fremont City Council was the first in Nebraska to introduce an ordinance that would outlaw renting to or harboring or hiring illegal immigrants.

Freytez said the Latino commission was deeply saddened by the events in Fremont. He urged community-based groups to 'denounce racism and intolerance.'