LINCOLN, NE – The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of landlords, tenants and employers in Fremont, Nebraska challenging a discriminatory law that seeks to banish persons alleged to be undocumented immigrants from rental homes in the 25,000-person town. The law also mandates that businesses performing work in Fremont enroll in an error-ridden federal program for verifying work status. Like the recently passed law in Arizona, the Fremont law invites racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear "foreign." The group will file a motion shortly requesting that the court block the law from going into effect while the case is litigated.
The ACLU's lawsuit charges that Fremont's law is at odds with the clear constitutional mandate imposing a uniform federal immigration enforcement system and has a discriminatory effect on those who look or sound "foreign."
"This law encourages discrimination and racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear to be foreign born, including U.S. citizens," said Amy Miller, Legal Director of ACLU Nebraska. "We're going to do all we can to make sure this extreme law, which would lead to individuals losing housing and jobs because of their appearance and language accent, never goes into effect. Nebraska doesn't need a law on its books that like Arizona's, is completely out of step with American values of fairness and equality."
The Fremont ordinance, which passed on June 21 and is scheduled to go into effect on July 29, requires prospective renters to provide the Fremont Police Department with information about their citizenship or immigration status prior to renting any home. Employers are required to check the status of would-be hires using E-Verify, a flawed federal electronic verification program that Congress has repeatedly declined to make mandatory.
U.S. citizens who have family members who cannot prove their immigration status are worried about the impact the law will have on their ability to live together as a family, and employers are concerned that the error-ridden employment verification program will force them to turn away lawfully authorized workers. Residents of the town have already felt the discriminatory impact of the law.
Mario Martinez, a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent who lives in Fremont, is studying for his bachelor's degree and working part-time to support his family. His wife is a legal U.S. resident from Mexico and they have a young child together. He has lived in Fremont for over 13 years and is profoundly disturbed by the hostility towards Latinos in the town and worries that he and his family might be evicted from their home as a result of the ordinance.
"Fremont feels like a completely different town now," said Martinez. "I'm as much a part of this community as anyone but now I get hostile looks from people like they want me to get out and my wife has been told to go back to Mexico because of her accent. I'm so disappointed that a law like this could have passed here. I always thought in this day and age laws are meant to prevent discrimination, not encourage it."
The controversy over the Fremont law has been closely watched across the country, and the ACLU's challenge is the latest in a national fight against discriminatory laws like the one recently passed in Arizona requiring police to demand "papers" from people they stop who they suspect are not authorized to be in the U.S.
"Divisive ordinances like these tear communities apart," said Jennifer Chang Newell, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "It's time to stop promoting discriminatory policies like these so that we can come together to find a national approach to immigration."
The ACLU has successfully challenged local anti-immigrant laws across the country, including in California, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Attorneys on the case, Martinez v. Fremont, include Newell and Tanaz Moghadam of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, Miller of ACLU Nebraska and Nebraska trial counsel Alan Peterson of Lincoln and Michael Nelsen of Omaha.
The complaint in support of a preliminary injunction and permanent injunction can be found at: www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/martinez-v-fremont-complaint