Voters in a small town in Nebraska passed a referendum on immigration Monday night that would prohibit landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants and city businesses from employing them.
From Arizona to Nebraska we have states and municipalities trying to create and enforce immigration laws.
But it is the responsibility of the federal government to enforce immigration laws. When local governments get involved you wind up with laws that will primarily result in discrimination against anybody who looks Hispanic. It's not likely they will enforce these laws for white residents but they will ask all Hispanic residents to prove their immigration status.
The referendum, passed by 57 percent of the voters in Fremont, Neb., would require renters to get a license from the city, and require all city employers to check names of employees using a federal database, according to the New York Times.
But the "immigration problem" is being overblown and exploited by local politicians.
Gov. Jan Brewer has exaggerated chaos along the border. Indeed crime in U.S. border cities is down, according to recent report in the Los Angeles Times.
And what is happening in Nebraska?
There are an estimated 2,000 Hispanics in a city of 25,000, census expert David Drozd at the University of Nebraska at Omaha told the Associated Press. I haven't seen any reliable estimates on what percentage might be undocumented.
Hispanics are less than 8 percent of the population. If we estimate that half are undocumented, that's not an immigration crisis to have 4 percent of your population undocumented.
And many of the Hispanics are working at area meatpacking plants that are outside the city limits so they would not be impacted at all by the new law that requires employers to use E-verify, a government database used to check immigration status.
Overall, the economy is doing better in Fremont than in the rest of the country. The unemployment rate there is under 5 percent around half the national average of almost 10 percent.
To me there is no logical reason why they passed this law.
Fortunately, there are some reasonable people out there. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce is on record against the measure and so it a citizen group called One Fremont-One Future.
"In reality, the passage of this ordinance shows that we have much work to do to educate, break down barriers, and build relationships. This outcome does NOT reflect the opinion of our entire community," the posted on their Web site.
One thing is certain. This referendum will face costly legal challenges and the ACLU said it is going to file a lawsuit.
Other towns, such as Hazelton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas, have tried to prevent landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants and their laws were struck down by federal courts. I expect the same to happen in Nebraska.
The economy of Fremont also will be hurt by this as people decide they might want to boycott shops in the town just as many groups are boycotting Arizona.
I expect more towns and states to pass similar laws as we wait and wait for Congress to act on immigration reform. But I don't expect the courts to uphold any of these local or state laws as immigration enforcement clearly falls under federal law.
All these laws do is fan the flames of the debate and worse they can result in discrimination against Hispanics. Hopefully, they will spur our Congress to finally take action on comprehensive immigration reform.