Opinion

How the people of Fremont, Nebraska took on their government that wouldn’t enforce the law

Joe Herring Independent Policy Analyst
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Abuses of the rule of law are fast becoming the hallmark of America’s new golden age of government. One egregious example is unfolding in the city of Fremont, in northeast Nebraska.

In summer of 2008, a member of the city council attempted to bring the force of law to what was already a moral imperative: proposing an ordinance requiring employers and landlords in the city to refrain from knowingly renting to, or employing illegal immigrants. The proposal failed in the city council, with the mayor casting the deciding vote.

The costs of illegal immigration have been studied, published and proven repeatedly, and are not in dispute among credible sources. The impact on our hospitals, schools, law enforcement, and social programs is undeniable.

Also undeniable, is the fact that illegal immigrants are willing to accept poor working conditions, substandard housing and markedly lower wages in exchange for discretion and silence regarding their immigration status – a willingness that unethical employers and landlords are eager to exploit.

By September of 2008, Fremont residents had seen enough. They organized a petition drive to place the proposed ordinance before the people in a special election. The city sued to stop them, and lost. Despite apocalyptic rhetoric about the city going bankrupt defending the inevitable legal challenges, the election was held in 2010 and the ordinance passed by an overwhelming margin.

The council raised taxes in retaliation, casting the money-grab as necessary to offset expected legal costs. This, despite the fact that the author of the ordinance, top constitutional attorney and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, had already agreed to defend the city pro bono. The tantrum by the Council and their allies featured charges of racism, spiced with an ugly undercurrent of intimidation.

To date the new tax has raised nearly two million dollars, and Fremont has spent only $50,000 from that kitty. This payment was by the Council’s choice, as they insisted Mr. Kobach was obligated contractually to accept the money as a retainer fee, despite his numerous refusals.

The Fremont law has been assailed from all fronts, by the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, plus a laundry list of “grassroots” groups largely funded under pet initiatives of the “open borders” crowd. Yet through it all, the law has maintained unwavering support from the residents of Fremont.

After nearly five years of battle, the ordinance was declared to be constitutional and non-discriminatory by no less than the prestigious 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the 2nd highest court in the land. At long last, Fremont is free to begin enforcement.

Well, maybe not. The city council still doesn’t like the law, and tried to quietly repeal it with a simple vote of the council itself. Why?

The honest answer appears to be greed. Many of those who oppose this ordinance (including some folks on the City Council) have staggering conflicts of interest where this issue is concerned.

One Councilman in particular, was publicly accused of packing his own rental properties with multiple illegal immigrant families – a charge he did not deny. Unsurprisingly, this particular councilman is leading the repeal effort. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Fremont taxpayers have grown sick of subsidizing the incomes of unethical landlords and businesses, but as their behavior makes clear, those same landlords and businesses have not yet tired of milking the taxpayer. They are fighting hard to keep the gravy train on the rails.

Residents of Fremont overwhelmed the city council meeting and angrily forced them to abandon their repeal vote, but the resulting compromise was to hold yet another special election, slated to occur on February 11th, 2014.

The result of this election is a bellwether for communities sick of the systemic unwillingness of the feds to enforce immigration law, but it may be remembered far longer for something else. Fremont is resisting unconscionable government hubris and brazen abuse of office.

This town in northeast Nebraska is about to decide if government will be allowed to tell an entire community to kiss-off and get away with it.

The City Council has attempted to overthrow the results of a valid election, just because they don’t like it.

Vote wisely Fremont. The rest of us are holding our breath.

Joe Herring writes from Omaha, Nebraska and operates the website readmorejoe.com.