Published Friday July 11, 2008 Proposed ban on illegal immigrants stirs uproar in Fremont BY CINDY GONZALEZ AND JUDITH NYGREN WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITERS A proposed law aimed at banishing illegal immigrants from Fremont, Neb., would require every renter â whether they were born in the United States or immigrated here â to obtain an occupancy license through the city. The proposal has sparked an outcry among advocates for Latinos. Nebraska Appleseed attorney Norm Pflanz said he is confident many Fremont citizens will join in opposition once they understand the full impact of the ordinance â on their lives as well as those of immigrants. Fremont's is the first city council in the state to propose an ordinance that would ban harboring and renting to illegal immigrants. Lawmakers in other U.S. localities have introduced similar initiatives, often later struck down by the courts, according to national immigration groups. Bob Warner, the longtime councilman who sponsored Fremont's 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." The proposal that went to the council for a public hearing this week calls for all renters to fill out an application verifying their legal right to be in the United States. The applications would be submitted to local police for verification, and an occupancy license would be issued. Every person occupying a rented home or apartment would have to hold an occupancy license at a cost of $5 each. A new license would be needed every time a resident relocated to a different rental unit. Providing false information on the application would subject the license holder to a fine of up to $500. Those who occupied a rental unit without a valid license would be subject to the same fine. Landlords would have to see the license before renting a unit. The ordinance, however, does not stipulate a penalty for landlords who fail to comply. The Nebraska Mexican-American Commission issued a statement on Thursday saying it was disappointed with "racial and anti-immigrant remarks" made at the Fremont 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." Pflanz, the Appleseed attorney, said some people in the audience of Latino and Asian descent overheard remarks aimed at them: "There's an illegal. There's an illegal." "The atmosphere was very hostile to anyone who wanted to oppose the ordinance," Pflanz said. When he and others in his group rose to leave the council chambers during a 10-minute break, a police officer approached, Pflanz recalled. "He said, 'I think I'm going to escort your group to your cars.' " While Pflanz wouldn't say whether he thought the escort was necessary, he said he "was most grateful" for the service. Said Councilman Warner: "Does it get out of hand? Absolutely." However, he said, the anger and raised voices simply reflected the frustration felt by many of his constituents. 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. 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. The legislation would have required verification of immigration status for anyone seeking state benefits. Blocking that discussion compounded irritation with the federal government over what some see as ineffective enforcement efforts. The current draft of the Fremont ordinance does not include a ban on hiring, but Warner said he wants that included â along with penalties for renting to and harboring illegal immigrants. Fremont â with a population around 25,000, about 30 minutes west of Omaha â includes a Hormel Foods pork processing plant that relies on immigrant labor. Warner, a member of the council for 20 years, said he can't go to church, a restaurant or a keno parlor without someone approaching him and saying, "'By God, this stuff has got to stop.'" Fremont Mayor Donald Edwards said his main concern is that the city enact a law that can withstand legal challenge and is enforceable. Pflanz expressed hope that church leaders, advocates and "the everyday" people of Fremont will make their voices heard before the council takes up the issue again. Tuesday's discussion "did not reflect well on Fremont, and it didn't reflect well on the vast majority of people in Fremont" who want to live in an inclusive community, he said.