Kris Kobach—the Kansas lawyer behind Arizona’s harsh immigration law—has helped put another punitive measure on the books. A small Nebraska town passed a local referendum on Monday to exclude illegal immigrants from jobs and rental homes. The measure, which Kobach helped author, would bar landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, require the city to screen renters for their immigration status, and would require businesses use a federal database to ensure that only legal immigrants are allowed to work.
Interestingly enough, the city council of Fremont, a town of 25,000, had actually opposed passing the measure, which was passed by a popular vote of about 57 percent. It turns out the Hispanic population has jumped from virtually non-existent to about 2,000 in about two decades—though no one knows how many of these newcomers are actually illegal immigrants. And some reports have suggested that older residents have been the driving force behind the law, concerned that Nebraska communities like Fremont just “no longer look or feel the way they once did.” While many conservative legislators in many states have vowed to pass copycat laws in the wake of Arizona, local ordinances may end up getting on the books more quickly, given such deep-seated wariness about immigrants and minority populations in small-town America.
The Nebraska branch of the ACLU has already vowed to file suit against the measure and block its enforcement, claiming it is discriminatory, promotes racial profiling, and violates federal law. And local opponents fear the legislation will be costly to defend, and they’re right to be concerned. Kobach has helped defend similar laws in Farmers Branch, Texas, and Hazleton, Pennsylvania, both of which are still tied up in the court system. Dallas Branch has already racked up $3.2 million in legal fees in defending its anti-immigration law. And it’s local taxpayers in these towns who will end up having to bear the burden.