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Will Fremont, Nebraska Go the Way of Alabama and Arizona?

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As we pointed out last week, we are a long way from 2010.  States, rather than passing ugly anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56, are signing in-state tuition bills, allowing immigrants to legally drive, and passing measures that would give families some protection from deportation.

So why then, is a small town in Nebraska trying to insist on going forward with a law that is so yesterday?

In 2010, voters in Fremont, Nebraska — population 26,167 — passed an ordinance preventing landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants and most employers from hiring them.  A federal court has upheld the law, but members of the city council — aware of the damage that the ordinance could cause and the cost it could run — have scheduled a referendum on the law for February 11.  A “yes” vote would repeal ordinance, while a “no” vote would allow for its implementation and pave the way for the legalized persecution of immigrants.

If this all sounds disturbing familiar, that’s because it is.  In 2010 and 2011, Arizona and Alabama passed state laws even harsher than the Fremont ordinance, legislation which required schools to ask children about their legal status and criminalized Good Samaritans who knowingly gave any form of aid to immigrants.  Horrible stories of abuse, discrimination, racial profiling, and hostility began popping up — a man brandished a gun at day laborers, then refused to pay them for their work, while landlords evicted families from their homes.

That’s the kind of ugliness that could recur in Fremont if the ordinance is implemented.  There have already been episodes of xenophobia — a group that supports the ordinance and opposes the repeal posted a graphic on its Facebook page claiming that “Fremont is a sanctuary city” because its “Hispanic population TRIPLED! in 10 years.”  Last November, Harper’s Magazine published a feature on the town and the ordinance, and specifically a town meeting where residents railed against “Spanish in my schools” and one man allegedly told a third-generation American to “go back to Mexico.”

Most familiar of all, unfortunately, are the players supporting the ordinance.  Its source is none other than Kris Kobach, the architect of SB 1070 and HB 56, whose native Kansas (where he is supposed to be focusing on his duties as Secretary of State) is just one state away.  Kobach, like the legislative pusher he is, disappeared from the public eye last year, after the disastrous 2012 election where the guy he was advising (Mitt Romney) lost the Latino vote miserably thanks to a policy that Kobach advised (self-deportation).  But he’s clearly gone on trying to spread anti-immigrant legislation across the nation, and the word is that he’s working on trying to make the ordinance stick in Fremont.

Another too-familiar player is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the hate group linked to white nationalist John Tanton, which is apparently being brought in to “put together a media campaign that will use social media, print media, flyers and canvassing to get out” messaging supporting the ordinance.  Did we mention that part where they’re a hate group that has taken money from Nazi sympathizers?

At the end of the day, however, Fremont voters should look to the states and localities that have passed laws similar to their ordinance, and learn from their mistakes.  SB 1070 and HB 56 were found to be mostly unconstitutional and struck down — as were local laws in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas.  Each of those cities is estimated to have spent or is still in the process of spending some $5 million to defend their respective laws.  And each has suffered image problems as national news coverage paints them as unfriendly, anti-immigrant towns.

2014 is gearing up to be the year of immigration reform that brings 11 million people out of the shadows.  Fremont, Nebraska is going to have to decide whether it wants to be a part of that future, or cling to a law stuck in the past.