Two civil rights groups prepared to ask a federal judge Wednesday to ensure a Nebraska city's ban on hiring and renting to illegal immigrants remains blocked, a day after the city council voted to temporarily suspend the ordinance amid federal lawsuits.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, also known as MALDEF, filed lawsuits claiming Fremont's voter-approved ban is discriminatory. Both civil rights groups also sought temporary injunctions to stop the ordinance from being enforced while the lawsuits proceed.
The measure has divided Fremont between those who say the ordinance makes up for what they call lax federal law enforcement and others who argue it could fuel discrimination. The City Council voted Tuesday night to suspend the ban, which was to have taken effect Thursday, until the lawsuits are resolved.
In light of the vote, the ACLU planned to join city attorneys in asking U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp to simply approve the ordinance suspension at Wednesday's hearing, said ACLU spokeswoman Maria Archuleta. But if city attorneys did not attend the hearing, Archuleta said, the group would proceed with the injunction request.
A message seeking comment was left for City Attorney Dean Skokan early Wednesday afternoon. His office did not know whether he was planning to attend the hearing.
Lawyers for MALDEF still were considering whether to continue the group's injunction request or just ask Smith Camp to approve the City Council's suspension, lead attorney Ricardo Meza said Wednesday. MALDEF's motion for an injunction says the ban "seeks to regulate immigration at the local level and imposes severe burdens on tenants living in apartment complexes and the local business people who operate those complexes."
Fremont's ordinance would require employers to use a federal online system that checks whether a person is permitted to work in the U.S.
It also would require people seeking to rent property to apply for a $5 permit at City Hall. Those who said they were citizens would receive a permit and would not have to provide documents proving legal status. Those who said they weren't citizens would receive permits, but their legal status would be checked. If they're found to be in the country illegally and are unable to resolve their status, they would be forced to leave the property.
Landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants could be subject to $100 fines.
The ordinance has put Fremont on the list with Arizona and other places in the national debate over immigration regulations. Arizona's sweeping new law takes effect Thursday, but a federal judge blocked the most controversial sections Wednesday.
The overall law still will be enacted Thursday, but without certain provisions, including a requirement that officers check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.
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