Re-printed by permission of the writer, of Lincoln, who is a retired attorney and Nebraska Appleseed board member.
First published as an OpEd in the Lincoln Journal-Star September 19, 2010.
Articles in both major Nebraska newspapers on Sept. 9, 2010, quoted testimony given at the hearing of the Nebraska Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights regarding the appalling increase in racist harassment in Fremont, since adoption of its Ordinance 5165.
The victims are U.S.-born and naturalized citizens and legal immigrants, who have been subjected to abuses ranging from racial slurs uttered in public places to threats and attacks on their homes and businesses, just because they are Hispanic.
The ordinance claimed that Fremont residents were at risk because of undocumented persons living in the town, yet no reliable evidence was shown to support such claims. Because of racist stereotypes used in urging adoption of the ordinance, it is now Hispanic U.S. citizens and residents authorized to be in the United States who are at risk, together with those who are undocumented.
Only 1,125 (or 4.4 percent) of the 25,576 residents of Fremont are not U.S.-born. This group includes all naturalized citizens in Fremont from many countries, as well as all noncitizens who have work permits, student visas or other governmental authorizations to be in this country.Â Thus, undocumented residents of Fremont constitute only a minimal number of the noncitizens. There are only 1,995 Latinos residing in Fremont, a large percentage of whom are citizens born in the United States; many others are naturalized or in this country with valid authorization.
An exception to the ordinance is the creation of a special class of undocumented immigrants who may be employed in Fremont – casual laborers or domestic workers.
Fremont residents may not regularly hire or rent to undocumented workers, but they may employ undocumented workers as housekeepers or gardeners, a curious result if undocumented persons are as characterized in the ordinance. This is reminiscent of restrictive housing covenants, when whites entrusted the care of their children to black nannies, and relied on black cooks, housekeepers and gardeners while not permitting nonwhites to live in white neighborhoods.
Latinos in Fremont are becoming pariahs in their own hometown. Supporters of immigration legislation in Fremont, and those who urge state action, contend that they are not anti-immigrant — they only want to rid communities of “illegal aliens” to make their town safe for citizens and legal immigrants. If protection of legal residents is the community goal, why are the rights of Latino citizens and legal residents not being defended with the same vigor as the undocumented are being sought out? Regardless of their political affiliations, Nebraskans should be outraged by the racism that has taken over Fremont with the unconscionable treatment of Latinos.
On Sept. 9, 2010, the federal Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held a city ordinance of Hazleton, Pa., similar to Fremont’s ordinance, to be pre-empted by federal law, with the rationale that “If every local and state government enacted (immigration laws), the federal government’s control over decisions relating to immigration would be effectively eviscerated.”
The Hazleton ordinance was defended by Kris Kobach, who drafted and now defends the Fremont ordinance. Attorney fees and litigation costs to Hazleton already have reached $5 million. The Hazleton case is important precedent, but it does not cure or prevent pervasive racist acts that become commonplace in a town promulgating such legislation.
Hopefully, the decision in the Hazleton case and the egregious racial tensions in Fremont will dissuade other Nebraska towns from adopting ordinances similar to that of Fremont, will deter state support of the Arizona immigration laws and will preclude adoption of state laws similar to those of Arizona.
The critical need for total immigration reform is undisputed. It ought not be a partisan, polarizing process, for it is in the interest of all Americans that a fair and effective immigration system be developed.
Reform cannot come through a questionable patchwork of state and local legislation that needlessly saps local funds and creates divisiveness, hate and fear among neighbors.
Nebraskans of all political views should become involved in the great national task of developing meaningful, equitable and substantive changes in the immigration system, rather than initiating and supporting local and state measures that divide communities rather than unite them.