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Op-Ed

Reject Ordinance, Embrace Diversity

Alan Potash
Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Plains States Region

This article originally appeared in Omaha World-Herald on February 10, 2014

On Tuesday, residents of Fremont, Neb., have the chance to take a powerful stand against discrimination.

By voting to repeal a housing ordinance that effectively bars undocumented immigrants from renting homes in Fremont, residents can send an important message: Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter their immigration status.

Fremont has experienced changing demographics and an influx of immigrants.

Unfortunately, in 2010 the city responded to these changes with an ordinance that promotes housing discrimination against those who often live in the shadows. It also places the burden of regulating housing on local law enforcement, who are placed in the position of enforcing federal immigration laws.

Fremont’s ordinance makes it illegal for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants. It forces people who want to rent an apartment to obtain an occupancy license, which requires information about the applicant’s immigration status. Police must then check the immigration status of those applying for the license, and undocumented immigrants — often the most vulnerable community members — are evicted from their homes or denied leases.

By placing police in the role of immigration enforcers and thereby instilling a fear of police in communities, the ordinance drives a wedge between law enforcement and the communities that they have sworn to serve and protect.

That not only creates an underclass in society of people who feel they cannot turn to the police for protection but also makes all of us less safe.

If immigrants fear that interacting with police could result in deportation, they likely would be reluctant to come forward if they were the victims of a crime or if they had witnessed a crime and had important information for the police.

These types of ordinances have been promoted by the anti-immigrant movement as part of a strategy that attempts to make life so miserable for immigrants that they will choose to “self-deport.”

As a nation of immigrants, almost all of us have stories of family members, close or far removed, who came to America seeking refuge or a better life. Surely policies and laws that seek to make life so difficult for immigrants that they will leave was not what our Founding Fathers envisioned.

The Fremont housing ordinance creates an environment that is inconsistent with our long tradition as a nation that has welcomed immigrants and celebrated their contributions to America. Immigrants who are already working, going to school and contributing to American society deserve better from all of us than laws that drive them out of their homes.

The housing ordinance has focused a national spotlight on Fremont, bringing negative publicity to the city. It also has led to lengthy, expensive litigation that falls on residents to fund. Differences of opinion on immigration reform are inevitable, but driving people from their homes is not the answer.

On Tuesday, Fremont residents will have the opportunity to repeal the ordinance, making a bold statement about the kind of place people want Fremont to become.

A “yes” vote to repeal Ordinance 5165 is an important step toward a society that embraces all members of our community.

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"As a nation of immigrants, almost all of us have stories of family members, close or far removed, who came to America seeking refuge or a better life. Surely policies and laws that seek to make life so difficult for immigrants that they will leave was not what our Founding Fathers envisioned."

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