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Fremont voters to decide on repeal of immigrant housing ordinance

Fremont voters to decide on repeal of immigrant housing ordinance

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Fremont voters will get a chance to repeal a controversial ordinance that blocks illegal immigrants from obtaining rental housing.

The Fremont City Council voted Tuesday to schedule a Feb. 11 special election that will decide whether to roll back a provision requiring renters to prove their legal status.

Council members also voted to postpone the enforcement of the housing requirements until 30 days after election results are certified, Mayor Scott Getzschman said.

The council's vote to hold a special election was 7-1.

The ballot question would not affect a provision of the ordinance that requires businesses to verify the legal status of new hires.

More than 100 residents passionate about defending or rescinding the ordinance attended the meeting Tuesday, Getzschman said.

A majority of Fremont voters approved the ordinance in 2010, after a petition drive led to a special election.

John Wiegert, who helped organize the petition drive, said Tuesday that the voters have already spoken, and he condemned the do-over.

“If they want to re-vote, organize a group like we did, pound the pavement, go door-to-door and collect the signatures,” Wiegert said.

Opponents of the housing ordinance say it casts the eastern Nebraska city of 26,000 as intolerant and has burdened residents with enforcement costs.

Business groups have also encouraged repeal of the housing requirement, saying it may have cost the community economic development opportunities.

“The perception is that Fremont is a hateful community,” the mayor said. “We don't know how many businesses shied away from Fremont because of the ordinance.”

The city has been enforcing the part of the ordinance that requires qualifying businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm the legal status of new hires.

The housing provision had been tied up in legal challenges, but it was reinstated in June by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The housing ordinance requires new renters to obtain a $5 permit from police that requires a federal immigration check. The city was scheduled to begin enforcing that requirement next Monday, but the special election has put the housing requirement on hold.

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