In a lot of ways, Fremont, Nebraska – population 26,167 – could be any mid-sized town, somewhere in America.
But Fremont has something no other town in the United States has: Ordinance 5165. It’s a strict anti-immigrant ordinance that punishes landlords for renting to undocumented people, theoretically making it impossible to live in town without papers.
A decade ago, Fremont was a 95 percent white town. Since then, immigrants from Mexico and Central America began settling in town. Many came to work at one of several large meatpacking plants located in Fremont. Now, the town is about 12 percent Latino.
Tensions over the newcomers’ presence began to rise. In 2008, a local city councilman decided he wanted to stop undocumented immigrants from coming to Fremont.
The housing ordinance was voted in by the citizens of Fremont on two separate occasions, but it didn’t come without a fight. The battle over the ordinance lasted six years and drew in almost everybody in town. It made enemies out of neighbors.
And it got dirty.
Tempers rose at local city council meetings and insults were hurled back and forth. Civil rights groups sued the city.
“There’s a line in the sand now,” says Virginia Meyer, a Fremont resident involved with the anti-ordinance campaign. “Are you with the ordinance, or are you against the ordinance?”
Latino families who had lived harmoniously in Fremont for years were shocked. Why did this friendly, midwestern town suddenly turn against them? And why did an seemingly banal ordinance about housing regulations cleave the town in two?
In this special report, Latino USA producer Marlon Bishop explores how the immigration debate set one Midwestern town into a struggle over its very soul.
Photo by Haydn Blackey via Flickr
7 thoughts on “Fremont, Nebraska: Immigrants Not Welcome”
The advent of Latino immigration in the sparsely-populated midwestern U.S. is unsurprisingly fraught with conflict unique to the region. Anyone who’s read about the Johnson County Range War of Wyoming will recognize similarities between the contending entities. It’s important to note, as this edition of _Latino U.S.A._ points out, that the future demographic of Nebraska and neighboring states will inevitably be materially affected by Latin American immigration, whether for ill or for good.
During the segment “Fremont, Nebraska: Immigrants Not Welcome”, quite a number of puzzling assertions were made.
In particular, the segment reveals that there probably are people who live in Fremont who are unsettled by the presence of people who are at all different in way from themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that others are unhappy about their neighbors who, variously, are different from themselves and newly arrived; merely Latino or Latino and newly arrived. There are certainly Fremont residents who disapprove of abettors of undocumented people.
But during the program I heard
“Welcome back to Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa.
“We’ve been talking about Nebraska.
“Specifically, a mid sized town about an hour out of Omaha called Fremont, where citizens voted in a strict anti-immigrant housing ordinance. The ordnance punishes landlords for renting to undocumented people, essentially making it impossible for them to live in the town.”
How can an “ordinance that punishes landlords for renting to undocumented people” be construed as “a strict anti-immigrant” anything? No evidence was presented here that anyone in Fremont supporting this ordnance was or is opposed to immigration into Fremont (even if there are such people).
The California county of my birth, in which I still reside, is home to 1.8M people, of whom something like 50% are white, 32% are Asian and 27% are Hispanic. I’ve lived in the same predominantly South Asian and Latino neighborhood for over thirty years. It is a welcoming neighborhood. I recently attended the naturalization ceremony for a neighbor who is a Sikh man of Punjabi origin. I think my neighbors are capable of understanding the distinction between those who have arrived in this country after openly requesting permission from civil authorities with an honest declaration of their intent to reside, on the one hand, and those who have arrived surreptitiously or who have deliberately mislead those same authorities by telling untruths or presenting false documents or physically evading them, on the other hand. No one is perfect. Few will claim to have never lied or cheated. But are we to understand that the producers of Latino U.S.A. are simply incapable of making this distinction? That is, the distinction between being truthful and being false? Or even of understanding that others do reasonably draw such a distinction?
I work in an office where people apply for “food stamps” (SNAP) and Medicaid benefits. It’s amazing to me the number of undocumented “Hispanic” people who apply for benefits for their children who are U.S. citizens. The parents themselves are not eligible, but their children are, and these parents frequently have multiple children. So, American tax payers are effectively paying to feed and provide medical care for these children. It’s really disgusting. However, my anger and disgust are directed not at these people, but at the U.S. government for not implementing effective means of significantly reducing illegal border crossings. If I lived just south of a wealthy country where I knew I could go to have children who would automatically become citizens of that country and probably have a better future than they would if they’d been born in my home country, I would do that same thing these parents do. I’d do my best to cross over into that wealthy country and have my children there. If the U.S. government isn’t going to stop illegal immigration, then our lawmakers should change the law so that the children of undocumented people do not automatically become U.S. citizens.
poor white people have no clue about family cultures, pour them a big glass of muddy dirty wine at church…..
El papa Francisco expresó el domingo su pesar por los miles de inmigrantes que cada día se ven obligados a abandonar su patria, arriesgando su propia vida, y que son, dijo, víctimas de un sistema económico que explota al hombre.
“Muchos soportan cada día el peso de un sistema económico que explota al hombre”
“Son tantos los que se ven obligados a emigrar de su patria, arriesgando su propia vida. Muchos soportan cada día el peso de un sistema económico que explota al hombre y le impone un yugo insoportable, con el que unos pocos privilegiados no quieren cargar”, afirmó el pontífice minutos antes del rezo del Ángelus.
El papa pronunció esas palabras desde la ventana del Palacio Apostólico del Vaticano y dirigidas a los miles de fieles católicos que se acercaron a escuchar su mensaje en la Plaza de San Pedro.
El obispo de Roma hizo un llamamiento para ayudar al prójimo, superando “la indiferencia de los seres humanos, que hace tanto mal”..
El sábado, Jorge Bergoglio hizo un llamamiento a las instituciones europeas para que sean más generosas a la hora de acoger a los refugiados, en un mensaje que envió al arzobispo de Agrigento (Sicilia, sur), Francesco Montenegro.
En este mensaje, el papa Francisco transmitió su dolor por la muerte de cientos de inmigrantes en lo que va de año el canal de Sicilia e instó a las autoridades a aportar soluciones.