LINCOLN — The Fremont ordinance banning rental housing for illegal immigrants will remain under legal scrutiny even though the U.S. Supreme Court has left the regulation on the books.
Supporters sounded triumphant Monday after the justices let stand an appeals court ruling that the ordinance does not discriminate or violate fair housing regulations. But opponents said they will look to bring fresh lawsuits as authorities implement and enforce the ordinance.
So far, Fremont has spent $186,000 in enforcement costs and legal fees to defend the ordinance. Monday's decision won't end plans to set aside $1.5 million for potential future expenses, Mayor Scott Getzschman said.
“I'm not totally, 100 percent sure that legally it's all said and done,” said Getzschman, who leads the city of 26,000 about 40 miles northwest of Omaha.
Both sides of the contentious issue agreed that Monday's decision could encourage elected officials to push similar housing laws in other cities within the seven central U.S. states that make up the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued the Fremont ruling.
Some opponents have called the Fremont ordinance toothless and not worth the trouble it racks up in hard feelings and expenses. But John Wiegert of Fremont, who twice helped rally local votes in favor of the ordinance, said it sends a clear message that illegal immigrants are not wanted in the community.
“It shows a small group of citizens in Fremont, Nebraska, can stand up to the federal government, which isn't doing a thing about illegal immigration,” he said.
Since enforcement of Fremont's ordinance began April 10, the Fremont Police Department has issued about 140 occupancy licenses. The ordinance requires all new renters to pay $5 each while declaring their citizenship and immigration status. The ordinance contains provisions to revoke licenses from immigrants in the country illegally, but that process will take close to four months, and no revocations have been initiated so far.
“We have not experienced any issues,” Police Chief Jeff Elliott said. “It's been fairly straightforward.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped draft and defend the ordinance, said it would be pointless for opponents to file new legal challenges. He also pointed out that the court's decision means the city does not have to pay legal fees for the plaintiffs.
“It's final now, and Fremont's victory is complete,” Kobach said.
Appeals courts in four other circuits have struck down similar ordinances or state laws, said Alonzo Rivas, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Chicago. Legal questions surrounding such housing requirements are far from settled, said Rivas, whose organization brought the lawsuit over the Fremont ordinance.
Virginia Meyer of Fremont, who helped organize an unsuccessful effort to have the ordinance repealed by local voters, said it would be good if Monday's decision helped quell the divisiveness that has lingered in the community for so long.
“I still think the ordinance is bad for the city,” she said. “Because the Supreme Court left the ordinance in place doesn't mean it's a good thing for our community.”
In 2010, Fremont voters approved an ordinance that contained the rental housing requirement and another provision mandating that businesses use the federal E-Verify system to certify the legal status of new employees.
U.S. District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp let the employment provision stand in a 2012 ruling, but she struck down the rental requirement as a violation of housing safeguards and the federal government's authority to regulate immigration.
In 2013, the 8th Circuit overturned the ruling in a 2-1 decision. Attorneys for the plaintiffs then asked for a review by the Supreme Court.
The justices also have declined to take up cases in Pennsylvania and Texas, where supporters of similar ordinances had sought to reverse defeats in lower courts.