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Immigration debate: Nebraska town passes tough immigration law; ACLU to file lawsuit

Immigration debate continues as a Nebraska town approves ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants. The ACLU has promised to file a lawsuit to block enforcement.

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Kristin Ostrom, who helped organize opposition to the measure, said she was never convinced of that. Fremont's unemployment rate matches the Nebraska rate of 4.9 percent, and both remain well below the national rate of 9.7 percent.

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"It's unfortunate that the majority of voters didn't understand that we really don't have an illegal immigration problem in Fremont," she said.

The Hispanic population in Fremont, including both legal and illegal residents, surged from about 165 in 1990 to 1,085 in 2000, according to census expert David Drozd at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He said an estimated 2,060 Hispanics lived there last year.

Communities that have passed similar laws have struggled to enforce them because of legal challenges. Hazleton, Pa., passed an ordinance in 2006 to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny permits to businesses hiring them. The Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch also has tried for years to enforce a ban on landlords renting to illegal immigrants. Federal judges struck down both ordinances, but both are on appeal.

The ACLU of Nebraska promised to sue over the Fremont measure even before Monday's vote.

"Not only do local ordinances such as this violate federal law, they are also completely out of step with American values of fairness and equality," said Laurel Marsh, executive director of ACLU Nebraska.

Kansas City, Mo.-based attorney Kris Kobach, who helped write the Arizona law, worked on the ordinance in Fremont and has said he thinks it could withstand a court challenge. He is also running for secretary of state in Kansas.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border