Nebraska city ready to enforce immigration rules

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Four years after Fremont residents first voted to impose restrictions on illegal immigration, the small Nebraska city will finally start requiring renters to get a $5 permit on Thursday.

Earlier this year, nearly 60 percent of voters in the conservative city of about 26,000 again backed the housing restrictions that require renters to swear they have legal permission to live in the United States and prohibit landlords from renting to anyone without a city permit.

The housing restrictions originally adopted in 2010 had been on hold while lawsuits challenging them worked their way through the courts, and the City Council gave voters a chance to reconsider in February.

Now a U.S. Supreme Court review is about the only thing that could stop the permits from being issued.

"Unless the U.S. Supreme Court jumps in during the next few hours, we're going ahead," Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said Wednesday afternoon.

The civil rights groups that challenged Fremont's immigration ordinance in court have asked the nation's high court to evaluate the appeals court ruling that upheld it. And the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska has said it will be watching implementation of the rental rules closely for examples of discrimination that might be grounds for a new lawsuit.

Attorney Alonzo Rivas, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said he expects the Supreme Court to decide this spring whether to hear the case after both sides finish submitting briefs this month.

Critics say the immigration restrictions are ineffective and might cost Fremont millions of dollars in legal fees and lost federal grants. They also believe the ordinance has hurt the image of Fremont, which is about 30 miles northwest of Omaha.

Most other cities that have tried to restrict illegal immigration — including Hazelton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Texas — have wound up mired in costly court battles.

Beginning Thursday, Elliott said adult renters are required to get the licenses before moving into an apartment or home. Current renters don't have to get permits, but a new permit is required with each move within the city. Application forms in English and Spanish are available at the police station or on the city's website, .

Applicants will be asked to supply basic identifying information and swear whether or not they have legal permission to be in the country, either as citizens or legal residents. No identification is required.

Initially, everyone who fills out the form and pays the fee will be issued a permit. But those who say they aren't U.S. citizens will have their information submitted to a federal database for review.

If the federal government says an applicant is not in the country legally, police will begin revocation procedures. But Elliott said the ordinance prohibits Fremont police from investigating anyone's citizenship status.

It's difficult to determine how many people live in Fremont illegally. According to census figures, the town is home to 1,150 noncitizens. That figure includes immigrants who do not have permission to be in the U.S., as well as lawful permanent residents, foreign students and refugees who are legally in the U.S.

If a license is revoked, both the renter and the landlord will be informed.

Elliott said that if the landlord continues to allow a renter without a license to stay, the landlord could be fined $100. The ordinance doesn't specify any penalties for renters.

Another section of Fremont's immigration ordinance that requires employers to use a federal online system to check whether prospective employees are permitted to work in the U.S. has been in place since 2012. Many larger employers, including the major meatpacking plants just outside Fremont, were already using that federal E-Verify system before the ordinance was adopted.