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By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
June 23, 2010

FREMONT, Neb. -- Dismayed by the reluctance of the city council to take action against illegal immigration in their community, voters in a special election Monday approved a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative that prohibits landlords and employers in this 25,000-person town from harboring, renting to or hiring undocumented aliens.

The newly passed ordinance requires employers to check employees through the federal E-verify database to make certain they’re in this country legally and renters over the age of 18 to apply for an occupancy license from the Fremont Police Department, where their immigration status will be checked.

The June 21 vote is thought to be the nation’s first on an anti-illegal immigration measure since the April passage of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, the law that set off demonstrations across the country and even outside the United States.

Turnout was high, with over 45 percent of the city’s registered voters casting a ballot compared to 28 percent in last month’s state primary election. Unofficial results from the Dodge County Clerk's Office reported 3,906 ballots in favor of the ordinance and 2,908 against.

“We had the big vote yesterday and we won,” said Andy Schnatz, an early proponent of the measure, in a telephone interview. “I’m very grateful for the help of everybody. The people backed us up. They put a lot of time, work and money into it.”

Schnatz told NewsWithViews he began working on the issue about three years ago “to fight this illegal invasion we’re having in the country.”


It was originally hoped that the city council would approve an ordinance, and one was drafted and brought before the council in July 2008. However, this first draft – introduced by then-council member Bob Warner -- did not contain a provision banning the hiring of illegal immigrants, and a revised ordinance was developed and presented to council members later that month.

"All I want it to do is prohibit harboring, hiring and or renting to illegal immigrants,” said Warner at the time. “That's all. If they're here documented, I'm fine with that. I am against illegals because they are breaking the law that all citizens must respect and obey."

This July 29 meeting was to be the second of three scheduled readings of the ordinance. In anticipation of a large crowd the meeting was moved to the high school auditorium.

That council meeting lasted some four hours, 30 minutes, with over 1,000 people attending to hear 3 1/2 hours of testimony for and against the proposed ordinance.

City Council Switches Rules

According to the Fremont Tribune, this second meeting was turned into the final one when, on a 7-1 vote, council members suspended the rules and put the matter to a vote – which ended in a 4-4 tie.

“While the proposal would have been defeated with the tie vote, Mayor "Skip" Edwards broke it by also voting no,” the Tribune reports.

"Control of illegal immigration is a federal issue," Edwards said. "I'm bound by the law, too. All of us want something done to correct the situation. We can help best by pressuring the U.S. government to take action."

On the surface, it appeared the proposed ordinance and the immigration issue were dead. But activists persevered and a petition drive was eventually launched to take the issue directly to the people and allow them to have a say in the matter.

The ordinance – and the earlier one that was rejected by the city council -- was crafted by attorney and law professor Kris Kobach, of Kansas City, Mo., who also authored Arizona’s famous S.B. 1070.

Despite support, it’s not certain the law will be allowed to take effect. In 2006, voters in Hazelton, Penn., approved a measure nearly identical to Fremont's, but a federal judge overturned it, saying that immigration laws should be left solely to the federal government.

The Fremont ordinance – like Arizona’s law – has been decried as “racist,” and the ACLU has promised an early lawsuit.

"Our goal would be to bring an action to ensure that there is not even one day that the law can go into effect," said Amy Miller, legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska.

But those backing the ordinance call it a necessary move in the face of Federal inaction on illegal immigration. "If the government doesn't want to do anything, it's up to the state, and if they don't, it's up to the city," Schnatz told Fox-42.

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Marshall True, who writes for (Omaha) and is very familiar with Fremont and the people there, says the ordinance is not a reflection of racism or bias.

“This is not a community exerting racial bias, but protecting their way of life and their community from rising costs resulting from providing health care, education, and other benefits to people who are undocumented,” True writes. “It is a community of strong people who finish a job when they start it.

Selected Earlier Stories

1 - Jim Kouri: Feds Allow Mexican Officials to Aid Criminal Immigrants in U.S. June 14, 2010
2 - Michael Cutler: Mexico Law is Tougher on Illegals than Arizona: May 4, 2010
3 - Frosty Wooldridge: How Much Further Into This Nightmare? Jan. 21, 2007

Additional Information

1 - Proposed Ordinance 5165: Approved by voters, June 21, 2010
2 - Jerry Seper: Mexico's Illegals Laws Tougher than Arizona's: Washington Times, May 3, 2010
3 - Staff: Starting at the Beginning: A Look at How Fremont Got to June 21 Election: Fremont Tribune, June 11, 2010

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Sarah Foster is a researcher and freelance writer:











Schnatz told NewsWithViews he began working on the issue about three years ago “to fight this illegal invasion we’re having in the country.”