Illegal Immigration Debate Hot in Tiny Neb. Town

Fremont, Neb., might seem an unlikely battleground in the fight over illegal immigration. It's 1,000 miles from the Mexican border with a small Hispanic population.

Last month voters approved a crackdown on illegal immigrants. Civil rights groups are suing to get it overturned. On Tuesday night, the city council votes on whether to suspend the new law until the lawsuits are resolved.

This town of 25,000, settled by European immigrants, celebrates its past but is struggling with its newest wave of immigrants, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

Resident Jerry Hart likened illegal immigrants as floodwater. "We're trying to sandbag to keep the floodwater from coming in," he says.

Fremont is a meatpacking town. Back in March, 17 suspected undocumented immigrants were detained in a raid at one of the plants and that stirred speculation about how many more may be in town.

"It seems like we are dolling out the benefits to people who are not legally here. It shouldn't be that way," says Hart.

In June, 57 percent of Fremont residents voted for an ordinance that requires businesses and landlords to verify citizenship, making it more difficult to harbor, rent to or hire illegal aliens.

Fremont might seem an unlikely place for this controversy. Unemployment here is roughly half the national average and local police say the crime rate hasn't changed much in years.

The population of legal Hispanics has risen from fewer than 200 people two decades ago to almost 2,000 today, about eight percent of the population. There are only guesses, no figures, for the number of undocumented immigrants here.

"When I first heard those words in public, 'they're taking over,' and 'put them on a bus and send them back to Mexico,' I thought: Where am I living? This must be some mistake," says Kristin Ostrom of "One Fremont, One Future.

Ostrom says someone threw a rock at her window after she stood up for people like her friend Brenda Garcia.

"They don't want us here," says Garcia. "They don't want us here."

Garcia, a U.S. citizen, built a home and a family here. She doesn't want to leave but some of her Hispanic neighbors already have.

"If you go to buy food at one place or another, they would stare at you. Like okay, we voted for you to get out of here. Why are you here?" says Garcia.

"We do not care if we have Hispanics in town," says one resident. "That's not a problem with us at all. We just want to make sure that the businesses, when they hire people, are hiring legal citizens."

City administrator Bob Hartwig realizes defending the ordinance in court could cost millions.

"The perception is that Washignton isn't doing anything to control the borders," says Hartwig. "We have a strong community. We want to make sure it remains a strong community."

It's a community that's far from the border but on the front lines of America's immigration debate.
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