Monday, June 21, 2010

Requiring a License to Rent in Fremont, Nebraska

Finally, an issue upon which The Huffington Post and the Daily Paul agree:  the "license to rent" ordinance being considered by the voters in Fremont, Nebraska today is a bad idea.  Designed to combat illegal immigrants, the ordinance would require verification of citizenship or residency status to: (1) rent residential real estate; and (2) to obtain employment.  The sample ballot and text of the proposed ordinance can be found here

According to an article in last Thursday's Fremont Tribune, the proposed ordinance would require anyone over the age of 18 to obtain an "occupancy license."  Current residents of rental properties would not be required to get a license until they change addresses.  If a child turned 18 while living in a rental property, they would also be required to obtain a license.  The ordinance would also apply to new residents in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.

To obtain a license, a person would complete an application and pay a $5 fee to the Fremont Police Department.  The applications would require the prospective renter to verify his or her citizenship or residency status.  Those unable to verify their status would be denied an occupancy license.

Fremont, a town of approximately 25,000 residents located 20 minutes northwest of Omaha, seems an unlikely hotspot in the illegal immigration debate.  The homepage for the city calls it "livable and progressive."  However, two of the main employers in the area are meatpacking plants owned by Freemont Beef and Hormel.  Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the Plains states are chiefly manned by immigrants, frankly because the jobs are so dangerous, disgusting, and low-paying that they are difficult to fill with people who have more options.  According to Huffington Post, attracted by those jobs, the number of Hispanic people living in Fremont rocketed from 165 in 1990 to 2,060 in 2009. 

Beyond the obvious issues related to racial profiling and discrimination, this proposed ordinance could have devastating practical consequences if it were uniformly enforced.  (And of course, if it isn't uniformly enforced, the racial profiling/discrimination issues just get worse.)  For example, read the perspective of a nursing home administrator in Fremont hereWhat other uses will the Fremont Police Department make of the applications?

The good news -- if the ordinance passes today's vote, the ACLU of Nebraska is considering filing an immediate injunction to prevent its enforcement.  

I love Nebraska – my mother's hometown is 10 minutes south of Fremont and I've been there many times – but I agree with both the Huffington Post and the Daily Paul.  This proposed ordinance is a mind-bogglingly bad idea.

Update:  The Fremont Tribune reported on June 22nd that the ordinance passed 57% to 43%. 

Tanya Marsh

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