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ACLU sues to obtain immigration records on city rental bans

ACLU sues to obtain immigration records on city rental bans
ACLU sues to obtain immigration records on city rental bans

A civil rights group has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking to compel a federal agency to release records related to efforts by two Nebraska cities to ban immigrants who are in the country illegally from renting apartments in their communities.

The ACLU of Nebraska requested the records more than two and a half years ago.

The group submitted an email request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, on November 9, 2021, requesting copies of correspondence between officials, agents, contractors or individuals regarding the implementation or enforcement of city ordinances in Fremont and Scribner.

“To date, USCIS has failed to respond in any way to the production of the documents requested in the request, let alone process the request ‘promptly,’ as the FOIA requires for all requests,” ACLU attorney Dylan Serverino wrote in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska in Lincoln.

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The statutory deadline of 21 days to comment has long since expired.

Serverino said the ACLU is seeking the documents to “promote public understanding of the implementation and enforcement of the regulations.”

In June 2010, Fremont passed an ordinance requiring potential tenants to obtain a rental license.

To obtain one, renters must fill out an application and answer questions about their immigration status. Fremont police then check the information with USCIS’ Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program to determine if renters are in the country legally.

In November 2018, Scribner issued an executive order that essentially did the same thing.

This was followed by a request for information from the ACLU.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court on Tuesday, asks a federal judge to order federal authorities to conduct a search for the records and immediately release them.

The ACLU is also seeking reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs.

The ACLU says USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security possess the records and that the ACLU has a legal right to obtain them. Failure to provide them violates the Freedom of Information Act, Serverino said.

Severino said the years-long wait made it clear that a lawsuit was needed to force a response from federal authorities.

“Nebraskans have a right to know whether and how federal officials were involved in efforts to enforce anti-immigrant regulations that involve discriminatory questions and racial profiling,” he said Tuesday. “Federal law provides clear guidelines for handling public records requests, and there is no excuse for years of inaction on requests – let alone requests involving something as important as fair access to housing.”

In 2010, the ACLU sued Fremont to overturn the rental ban, arguing that it conflicted with the federal government’s sole authority to regulate immigration and had a discriminatory effect.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the appeal in a split decision.

Earlier this year, Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg delivered the opening speech at the Nebraska Immigration & Workforce Summit, saying things had changed in the city of 27,000 residents about an hour north of Lincoln.

He told the Nebraska Examiner that in order to fill today’s jobs, the city must “welcome the immigrant community.”

As long as the ordinance remains on Fremont’s books, it is “impossible to enforce,” according to Spellerberg.

Reach the author at 402-473-7237 or [email protected].

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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