Fremont voters overwhelmingly have rejected an effort to repeal part of a controversial city ordinance that bans illegal immigrants from renting housing.
Of the 6,484 ballots cast in the Tuesday election, 59.6 percent voted to affirm the law while only 40.4 percent said it should go, according to unofficial election night results. The election attracted a 43 percent turnout of the town’s 15,119 registered voters.
Supporters of each side gathered at opposite ends of town to watch election results roll in, with foes of the ordinance downtown at J’s Steakhouse, while those looking to keep it rallied on the east side of town at The Gathering Place.
“It is pretty rocking inside,” State Sen. Charlie Janssen said of The Gathering Place. “Everybody inside has worked hard for this, and they’re enjoying an evening that culminated several years of hard work.”
Fremont resident Scott Jensen, who worked with a group pushing the repeal of the housing ordinance, called the results unfortunate, but said “the sun will rise tomorrow.”
“There will undoubtedly be events in our near future as a community that will help us see the reality, the consequences, pros and cons, of the decision today,” said Jensen, a chaplain at the Fremont Area Medical Center.
“I suspect the reality is going to be a little bit in between what everybody has been saying the last weeks, and months and years.”
Opponents of the housing ordinance say it will be ineffective, leaves the city vulnerable to legal action, gives the community a bad reputation of being intolerant and hostile, and hurts development efforts.
The town's economic development arm, the Greater Fremont Development Council, and the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, both came out strong against the housing ordinance.
Supporters of the ordinance say it hasn't hurt development efforts and has nothing to do with intolerance or racism.
“I can tell you from living in Fremont people are very receptive, very welcoming and they welcome anybody who wants to immigrate here legally, but they also think people need to do it the right way,” Janssen said.
Ordinance foes raised $71,000 in cash and in-kind donations, outspending the other side by a ratio of more than 11 to 1 in the lead-up to election day. Supporters of the ordinance raised little more than $6,000, mostly in small amounts.
“It is a tough issue to move somebody on. You know where you are at on this issue,” Janssen said.
Fremont voters first approved the ordinance by a 57 percent majority in a 2010 special election after supporters gathered more than 4,000 signatures to get it on the ballot. But the housing portion of the law has never been enforced.
It was put on hold until the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld it and reversed an Omaha judge’s ruling that it was pre-empted by the Immigration and Nationality Act and violated the Fair Housing Act.
The City Council then decided to put the measure back on the ballot and suspended it until after the vote Tuesday.
Fremont Mayor Scott Getzschman said earlier this week that if voters again approve the law, it will be implemented.
ACLU of Nebraska said in a news release it stands with Fremont residents who will be harmed by the housing ordinance and commended those who fought against it.
"The tide is turning in America, and by pursuing this backward policy Fremont stands apart from communities across the country that have come to realize how costly and self-defeating these types of exclusionary policies can be," ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller said in the statement.
The Nebraska ACLU was part of the unsuccessful lawsuit against the ordinance, which was brought by attorneys who also represented landlords, tenants, employers and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The ordinance requires adult renters to get a $5 occupancy license from the Fremont Police Department. The license application asks about citizenship or for an identification number to prove they’re in the country legally.
Landlords are required to get a copy from their renters and can file for it on renters' behalf.
Authorities would not check those who say they are U.S. citizens. But if an immigrant’s proof doesn't check out, police notify the person and the landlord, who is required to begin the eviction process.
The ballot measure didn’t address another part of the city’s ordinance already enforced that requires businesses in the city use E-Verify, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Internet-based system that verifies whether a person is eligible to work in the United States.