Hispanics in the Heartland: The Fremont, Nebraska Immigration Ordinance and the Future of Latino Civil Rights
26 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2012 Last revised: 29 Jan 2014
Date Written: October 1, 2013
While Arizona has been labeled by Professor Kristina Campbell as a “modern-day Selma” in the struggle for Latino civil rights, Nebraska has become a state which is a quiet, but promising, state in the movement for Latino civil rights that should not be overlooked. This article examines not only the issues surrounding the Fremont immigration ordinance, but other recent legislative attempts at the state level to curtail the rights of Latinos in Nebraska. While many such legislative attempts to limit the rights of Latinos in Nebraska have taken place in the past several years, the ruling in the Keller case and the Legislature’s April 2012 approval of Nebraska taxpayer funding for prenatal health care benefits for undocumented immigrants places rays of sunshine of hope over a Nebraska landscape which has been increasingly covered with clouds over the civil rights of Latinos.
Part I of this article provides a brief background of the Latino culture in Nebraska and discusses the increasing diversity of the state. To better compare the legal issues and effects of the Fremont Ordinance, two other cities who passed similar ordinances which faced legal challenges as to housing provisions, Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas, are examined in Part II. Part III then discusses the Fremont Ordinance and the Keller decision. Part IV examines other legislative attempts to restrict the rights of Latinos in Nebraska as well as the prenatal health care debate, which has turned the state into another battleground in the national movement for Latino civil rights.
Finally, Part V contends that the story of the Fremont Ordinance, the efforts to protect Latino civil rights in Nebraska, and the Keller decision contain several important lessons for the future of Latino civil rights nationwide. First, the success of the restoration of taxpayer funding for prenatal care by the Nebraska Legislature, care for the most vulnerable in society, was a reflection of bipartisan coalition building between immigrants’ rights groups, pro-life groups, and even conservative Republicans. Such coalition-building of diverse groups, particularly the inclusion of religious organizations, is vital for the future of the movement to restore and protect Latino civil rights nationwide. Second, as seen with the Fremont Ordinance, unconstitutional local efforts to deny undocumented immigrants the right to housing comes with a great cost to municipalities. The costs of the defense of the ordinances and the possibility of a city to be mandated to pay the attorney’s fees of Plaintiffs who successfully challenge these ordinances is a powerful economic disincentive for cities to pursue such unnecessary measures. Finally, insurers have not yet provided coverage for a city to pay the attorney’s fees, costs, or expenses awarded against a municipality relating to a housing ordinance which criminalizes the “harboring” of undocumented immigrants. In conclusion, this article briefly offers a discussion of the possible effects of the Arizona v. United States Supreme Court decision on Keller as it awaits its fate before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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