A local organization has formed to campaign against repealing the housing portions of Fremont’s illegal immigrant ordinance.
Paul Von Behren, spokesman for Our Vote Should Count, said voters already approved the ordinance in June 2010, and shouldn’t have to vote again.
E-Verify portions of the ordinance have been enacted. Portions requiring renters to acquire occupancy licenses from the Fremont Police Department, however, were suspended as they worked their way through court challenges.
The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld those provisions last summer, and in October the city council introduced an ordinance that would have repealed the housing section. That move met with vocal opposition, and on Nov. 12 the council indefinitely suspended subsequent readings, instead sending the question to a special election on Feb. 11.
Von Behren, an Ames man who owns rental properties in Fremont, said he and others then organized a grassroots effort aimed at defeating the repeal.
“We’ve named it Our Vote Should Count, and that should really state the purpose,” Von Behren said. “The point of the organization is the people of Fremont have taken the initiative to pass their own ordinance when the city council would not, and it has withstood all the court challenges. … For our city council just to decide that this needs to be overturned or re-voted, so to speak, there’s a lot of anger and frustration.
“On one hand you have the will of the people of Fremont. On the other hand you have the money interests of the businesses and leaders of Fremont, and those two don’t land on the same page,” he said.
Our Vote Should Count enlisted the help of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Tea Party Patriots, True The Vote, and other national organizations, including a Washington, D.C.-based analyst and an Omaha media consultant, to put together a media campaign that will use social media, print media, flyers and canvassing to get out their message.
The operation, Von Behren said, is being funded through donations.
“In less than a week we raised a couple thousand dollars,” he said.
The ordinance, he said, “was put in place to force the city council to obey federal law.”
“The question is how many times do we have to vote on the same issues. What this is starting to feel like is the council’s going to force votes until they get their way,” he said. “It’s only been three years, this law has not been enacted, nobody knows the consequences. They are out with scare tactics and suppositions and depositions and they’re basically making figures up out of the air to fight this, and they haven’t even given it a chance to work.”
He said 2010 U.S. Census figures estimate about 1,259 illegal immigrants living in Dodge County, including an estimated 1,015 in Fremont.
“The thing that has never been discussed is what’s been the tax burden to Fremont,” Von Behren said.
He cited figures from a FAIR official attributing 40 percent of the Nebraska school population to illegal immigration, a 25 percent Hispanic prison population, and an average cost to society of around $2,200 per illegal person.
“The Hispanic, the non-white population of Fremont Public Schools in 2000 was about 298, and I think right now it’s 1,361, so it’s basically quadrupled,” he said.
Ultimately, he concluded, illegal immigration could cost the community $5 million a year.
Enforcing the ordinance is not about targeting a race, he said.
“There are two levels of racism here. One is a set of racists who will use illegal people for their own profit, and that is being done actively. The other racism is people who knowingly break the law to come here for their own profit,” he said.
He declined to mention specific businesses using illegal labor, but said, “there are a number you can suspect of it.”
“America brings in more legal immigrants every year than every other nation in the world. We’re an open country, but it’s just rule of law,” he said.
“Anybody is welcome who will obey the law, and if you’re not going to obey the law, then I’m sorry, you’re not welcome, and it doesn’t matter, I don’t care if you’re a white, European, Christian male. If you’re here illegally, then you need to leave,” he said.
Supporters of the repeal have said the housing provisions won’t work because local police are not authorized to double check an applicant’s claim to be in the United States legally, but Von Behren said it’s up to the city council to make it work.
“You pass the law first,” he said, “and then you work out any kinks, and that’s my point. If there are any kinks in this law, the point of it is the people of Fremont have said that they wanted it, if there are ways that it had to be worded where it needs to be improvised or strengthened, then that’s the city council’s job to do that.”
The bottom line, Von Behren said, is whether Ordinance 5165 is a solution for Fremont.
“We can’t control Ames, we can’t control North Bend or any other town, but right now we can control Fremont,” he said. “So this is the solution that the Fremont people have chosen for themselves. No other community has gone out and done the work to pass something like this for themselves. Fremont people have gotten up and done the work, and they deserve to have what they worked for.”