Skip to comments.Fremont at center of immigration turmoil
Posted on 09/27/2009 7:56:55 AM PDT by stan_sipple
"The melting pot" analogy for immigration has taken on new meaning in this city of 25,000.
It could be said that the heat has been turned up here and that the bubbling contents of the pot are coming apart rather than coming together.
Behind is a summer unity picnic in which Kristin Ostrom, Gabriela "Gabby" Ayala and other members of a group called Nebraska Is Home tried to ease the tension between the white population and Hispanics and other relatively new immigrant faces.
Ahead, as early as November, is a court confrontation in Lincoln for which other Fremont citizens have retained nationally known attorney Kris Kobach to argue for a city-enforced crackdown on people who can't prove legal status in the United States.
Ostrom, 47 and a 12-year resident of Fremont, couldn't believe her ears last year as she headed home from a trip to Minnesota. On the radio was live coverage of a marathon public hearing that would eventually lead to the city council's defeat of a crackdown ordinance.
"I was shocked," she said during a Wednesday interview at a local coffee shop, "shocked that it seemed true that a small community where people know each other would be so judgmental of some new people coming in."
Ayala, 26, Mexican immigrant and an 11-year resident of Fremont, said her Hispanic friends feel two ways.
"There are the ones that are confident it's not going to happen, and there are the ones that are worried about what might happen," Ayala said.
"There are a few families that have moved away already," she added, "because they're afraid to go out, afraid to go to the store, because they don't know whether they'll be insulted by somebody, especially with all the anger going on."
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Fremont, home to such familiar Nebraska landmarks as Midland College and the Fremont Dinner Train, became a center of attention for less warm and fuzzy reasons last year.
That's when several members of the city council got behind a proposed ordinance that would, among other things, prevent local landlords from renting to people who can't prove legal status in the U.S.
It eventually failed when Mayor Ed "Skip" Edwards broke a 4-4 tie by voting against the ordinance.
That led to a successful petition drive, which led to a Dodge County District Court case in which Judge John Samson directed the city to go ahead with an election, which led to an appeal that is now before the Nebraska Court of Appeals.
Kobach, also a professor and a teacher of immigration law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, expects to be in Lincoln soon for the appeals court hearing.
"The parties are already finished writing their legal arguments out," he said Thursday, "so now all that remains is oral argument. I would anticipate that would be this fall."
Kobach, one-time counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft during the George W. Bush presidency, is also in the thick of similar court challenges in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas.
He is not sold on the point, reiterated in recent days by Fremont City Attorney Dean Skokan, that enforcement of immigration law is outside the authority of municipalities.
"The argument Mr. Skokan is making is certainly one that's made frequently by the ACLU," Kobach said, "but it is not the one that is ultimately going to prevail in federal court."
Nor, as far as he's concerned, is it to be assumed that Fremont advocates of a law prohibiting the "harboring and hiring of illegal aliens" represent a disgruntled few.
He noted that "the individuals collecting signatures for petitions were able to far exceed the required number. Indeed they exceeded it by more than 1,000 signatures. So if the question of signatures is any gauge in the city, it would seem there's strong support for it."
Ayala and Ostrom aren't convinced those behind the petitition drive represent the majority.
"I'm pretty sure it's not a big group," Ayala said, "but it is a loud group."
Ostrom thinks the ordinance promoters' sense of mission is a reaction to a recent change in Fremont's racial makeup.
"I think it's people being nervous about change," she said, "about new people coming to the community and how that affects jobs and the community."
"A number of people have talked about how they're offended that they hear people speaking Spanish at Wal-mart," she said.
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Over at the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, President Allan Hale sets aside his salad lunch at his desk to acknowledge "this perceived battle" that is tarnishing the image of his favorite town.
"That's too bad," he said. "It messes up the whole idea of community discussion and dialogue."
Speaking for the chamber's 650 members, "our position is let the laws of the land and the political system carry through," he said.
In a town that includes a large miniority emphasis in the employment mix at the Hormel and Fremont Beef meatpacking plants, the chamber is not eager for any kind of immigration outcome that "encumbers the business community."
Don Hoppes, Fremont resident and president of Local 22 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said the legal status of the rank and file has changed "dramatically" and for the better in the years since meatpacking plants were regularly targeted for federal immigration raids.
"I certainly don't believe an undocumented worker that's here should be protected in any way," Hoppes said, but tracking down residents without legal standing is not the job of local communities.
City Attorney Skokan didn't want to be drawn into any discussions about Fremont occupying center stage in the immigration debate in Nebraska.
"I would certainly say, if the ordinance did pass, there is no doubt we would be sued by several immigration rights organizations," Skokan said, "and it would be very difficult to prevail in that instance."
Nor did Skokan want to try to sort out how the federal and state governments might share authority for enforcing immigation law.
On the question of authority, "I just know it's not ours," he said.
So by Kristin's logic "new people" entering her house through the back door to help themsleves to food, a shower, some clothes, a nap, are always welcome.
Mayor and Chamber are more interested in city coffers than who is legally in the US. It’s all about the money.
“I think it’s people being nervous about change,” she said, “about new people coming to the community and how that affects jobs and the community.”
Ostrom and Ayala, part of the problem.
You think? Jackasses! It isn’t about empathy, mercy, jobs, nerves, or anything of the kind. It is about the rule of law, and the very sovereignty of a nation. Liberty and freedom did not just fall out of the sky. They were bought and paid for by the blood of pioneers and immigrants who came here because of the lack of freedom in their homeland. They were here legally with the drive and means to continue the fight for what brought them here in the first place.
Liberty and Freedom are necessary and the means to the preservation of our sovereignty. Without it, you can kiss those yobs goodby and there won’t be any reason for illegals to come here.
Before that happens, every little town from East to West, better figure out how they are going to assist in the preservation, before the Mexican flag again flies over the Alamo.
The German army should have said “France is home” to stop d-day
Idiot. It's about people who can't prove they're legal. They are the only ones who have anything to fear. I guess this lady leaves her door wide open and goes walking around at midnight, or would let her kids do so, because we mustn't be "judgmental" of others.
Gawd I hate the PC BS of these squatter-americans. First thing that town needs to do is fair the idiot Town Attorney and Mayor, burn down the Chamber of Communism, arrest the HR managers @ the Meat Packers and bring in Sheriff Joe to consult on how to run the roaches out of town.