LINCOLN — Nathalie Martinez always said she never wanted to leave Fremont, a place where she feels safe, comfortable, accepted.
The 24-year-old dental assistant and U.S. citizen now finds herself rethinking that view in light of Tuesday's vote in support of an ordinance that blocks illegal immigrants from obtaining rental housing.
Now she worries how her mother and grandmother will be treated. And she wonders if others will now direct suspicious looks toward her three children.
“To think they're going to be discriminated against because of this is just very heartbreaking,” Martinez said Wednesday.
The day after the controversial ordinance drew support from nearly 60 percent of Fremont voters, all sides on the contested issue said they'll be watching closely to see what happens next.
The president of the Fremont City Council said she anticipates that the ordinance will go into effect soon, perhaps by late March.
A top supporter of the ordinance promised recall drives if council members continue to stall when it comes to enforcement of the housing provisions.
And attorneys who unsuccessfully challenged the ordinance will be ready with a new lawsuit if Fremont residents come forward with housing discrimination claims.
Fremont voters first approved the ordinance in 2010 by 14 percentage points, but it has not been enforced because it was tied up in legal challenges. Last summer, a federal appeals court upheld the provision that requires new renters to obtain $5 permits and landlords to obtain rental licenses. Landlords who rent to illegal immigrants can face $100 fines.
In November, the city council voted 7-1 for a special election to reconsider the ordinance. Opponents of the ordinance said it will cost the city legal fees and economic development opportunities because it gives the impression that Fremont does not welcome diversity.
Supporters of the ordinance expressed dismay that their own elected officials would not carry out their wishes. They argued that the housing ordinance was about enforcing the law and majority rule.
Council President Jennifer Bixby said Wednesday that the special election was still worthwhile because it led to a full public debate over the potential costs of enforcing the ordinance. Although she and other council members have not discussed a timetable, she did not anticipate more delays.
The resolution that led to the special election says the ordinance becomes official 30 days after the council meets to certify the election results. The council's next meeting is Feb. 25, so the countdown to enforcement could start then.
“The vote certainly did send a message,” she said. “My job will now be to bring the community together.”
Paul Von Behren, who helped organize defense of the ordinance, said the council will face a huge backlash if it doesn't move quickly to enforce it.
“If they want to work with us now, we'll work with them,” he said. “If they want to fight, we'll fight.”
He said the ordinance isn't about race but about compliance with the law. All renters and landlords must comply, regardless of their race, ethnicity or native tongue.
“We are still a nation of laws that need to be obeyed,” he said.
Fair housing laws are among them. Amy Miller, director of ACLU Nebraska, said Wednesday that her organization will conduct training in Fremont to teach renters how to recognize discriminatory practices.
The training will focus on how renters are treated when they apply for the permits at the Police Department and how they are treated by landlords. The battle has now shifted in the wake of Tuesday's vote, Miller said.
“The new battle is to monitor implementation and collect complaints if they emerge,” she said.
Martinez said her parents were legal immigrants from Mexico who moved their family to Fremont when she was 9. Because she rents a house, the ordinance would apply to her.
She said she never personally experienced discrimination until after the 2010 vote approving the ordinance.
Then, an older gentleman in a checkout line gruffly told her to speak English when she was talking to her kids in Spanish. And a clerk at a thrift store told her they didn't have bathrooms for brown people, she said.
Such comments are rare, she said, but she can't help but worry that people with intolerant views will feel emboldened by Tuesday's vote.
“Now we're wondering what's going to happen next,” she said.