Darien Gap
As big city Mayors complain about recent influx of immigrants, the small town of Fremont, Nebraska remains unsure on how to deal with them. AFP

NEW YORK CITY - Mayors across big cities like New York, Chicago and Denver have been expressing concern about the recent influx of immigrants and the potential sustainability this trend can hold. But one small town in Nebraska can't decide how to feel about them.

Fremont, Nebraska, a small town near Omaha, has a population of 27,000. It has three massive meat-processing plants, making it attractive for Central American migrants who could potentially get jobs in its slaughterhouses, a common destination for those reaching the U.S., NBC News reports.

However, they're not necessarily welcomed there despite the need for their labor. This is thanks to a controversial 2010 law that tries to bar undocumented migrants from living within city limits. Almost 15 years ago, Fremont residents voted 57% to 43% to require that all people renting property in Fremont must first sign a declaration that they are legally present in the U.S.

Although more than a decade has passed since the law was first approved, it is still met with mixed reactions.

Brenda Ray, who has lived in the Fremont area for 40 years, said she noted the change in the city's population and voted for the ordinance back in 2010. She said she doesn't "have a problem" with arrivals from Central Americans "if they are legal and they come in to speak American English."

She also told NBC she wishes Ordinance 5165 "accomplished more", but still supports it.

On the other hand, some residents also recognize the need for migrants to work in their town.

"We need these people," said Mark Jensen, president of the city council. "We need this work done. This is what feeds the nation and the world."

The recent wave of migrants across the country over the past year has brought the Ordinance into many people's attention once again. By 2022, Fremont, which used to be nearly all white, has become 16% Latino, according to census data, and the number has risen since. Many of the recent arrivals are from Guatemala, with the country's consulate in Omaha saying there are at least 2,020 nationals in Fremont and the true figure could be 45% higher, NBC reports.

Many of the recent Guatemalan arrivals actually don't speak Spanish. Instead, their native tongue is K'iche', an indigenous language from the country.

Given this group's importance in the local meatpacking industry, Jessica Kolterman, a director at Costo's local chicken plant, told the local paper last year that her team holds language classes for workers. "If you come into this team and you want to work hard and grow, that opportunity is there in front of you."

Migrants who need to rent housing in Fremont have to go to city hall to sign declarations that they are in the U.S. legally and pay $5 for an occupancy license. The city clerk's office told NBC it gets three to five of the declarations a day from migrants and other applicants.

The clerk's office also said it was unaware of any cases that required further action, like finding that someone who signed a declaration was actually undocumented. One of the reasons for this may be that the law doesn't require applicants for occupancy licenses to provide any proof of legal presence in the U.S.

When the law was passed back in 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union fought against it, but ultimately lost. The absence of language compelling renters to prove their right to be in the U.S. is part of the reason the ordinance survived legal challenge.

City council Paul Von Behren, who supports the rule, said it was unenforceable. Jensen, who opposes it, said that trying to enforce it against a particular migrant could invite more legal fights. He compared it to 19th-century laws that stay on the books long past their relevance.

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