Town hasn't been able to enforce immigration rule

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Associated Press

Posted on July 10, 2014 at 5:01 PM

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska city that bans renting homes to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally is having trouble enforcing part of its ordinance three months after it went into effect.

The lack of an agreement between the city of Fremont and the federal government means that no one who applies for a rental license has had their citizenship status reviewed. But Fremont officials expect that to change soon.

Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said nearly 500 rental licenses have been issued to people who applied and paid the $5 fee since the city started the process on April 10.

Only applicants who say they aren't U.S. citizens are investigated. So far, 17 people have said they aren't citizens when they completed the forms, but 16 of those provided a federal ID number to demonstrate they are living in the country legally.

The attorney who is working on the city's agreement with federal officials, Kris Kobach, said the revised agreement is being reviewed by federal officials now. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who defended the ordinance in court, said Fremont already had an agreement to access a federal database to check citizenship status before issuing professional licenses. That agreement is being modified to add the rental licenses.

"I don't expect any problem," said Kobach, who helped draft Fremont's ordinance.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Tim Counts said he couldn't immediately comment on the pending agreement.

The national spotlight has been on Fremont because of its efforts to restrict illegal immigration. The community of about 26,000 roughly 30 miles northwest of Omaha is one of only a handful of cities that have tried to tackle the issue.

Critics argue that Fremont's rules have hurt the city's image and are ineffective, but voters have backed the ordinance twice — in 2010 and in February.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined earlier this year to hear a challenge to the rules.

The issue attracted a one-man protest in May when Lyle George refused to leave Fremont's City Hall to demonstrate his displeasure with the ordinance. The 57-year-old Seattle man, who grew up in Nebraska, was found guilty of trespassing Thursday.

George said it was worth it to pay $199 in fines and court costs to highlight what he considers a bad law.

"This is just a tiny thing. It's time to put the fire out before it gets worse," George said after representing himself at a short trial.

Another section of Fremont's immigration ordinance requires employers to use a federal online system to check whether prospective employees are permitted to work in the U.S. and has been in place since 2012. Many larger employers, including major meatpacking plants just outside Fremont, were already using that federal E-Verify system before the ordinance was adopted.

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