Media Contact

Sam Petto, ACLU of Nebraska Communications Director

July 9, 2024

LINCOLN, Neb. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska is turning to the courts in an effort to order federal authorities to respond to a public records request. 

The civil rights organization says the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a DHS agency, have violated federal law by failing to respond to a longstanding request related to two Nebraska cities’ efforts to ban some immigrants from renting housing in their communities.

The lawsuit requests a judicial order that would compel officials to reply to the November 2021 request, which sought records of correspondence and federal database searches related to ordinances in Fremont and Scribner that force prospective renters to answer a question about their immigration status and task local law enforcement officers with investigating if someone attests they are not a U.S. citizen or unsure of their immigration status.

The ACLU of Nebraska has not received any communication from USCIS since officials requested and received clarification on the request in December 2021.

Dylan Severino, legal fellow at the ACLU of Nebraska, said the yearslong wait made it clear that it would take a lawsuit to force a response from federal officials.

“Nebraskans have a right to know if and how federal officials have been involved in any efforts to enforce anti-immigrant ordinances that invite discriminatory questions and racial profiling,” Severino said. “Federal law includes clear guidelines on processing public records requests, and there is no excuse for years of inaction on any request — let alone one that involves something as important as fair access to housing.”

The ACLU and ACLU of Nebraska sued Fremont 14 years ago, seeking to overturn the rental ban on the basis that it conflicts with the federal government’s sole authority to regulate immigration and has a discriminatory effect. The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the challenge in a split opinion. Recently, Fremont’s mayor said that although the ordinance remains on the books, it is impossible to enforce.

The ACLU of Nebraska frequently relies on public records to advance its work on a range of civil rights issues, including immigrants’ rights. The new lawsuit is similar to a case filed two years ago, which prompted DHS officials to release dozens of pages of records on an immigration raid in and near O’Neill, Nebraska.