Published: Jul 27, 2010 1:12 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 27, 2010 10:13 AM EDT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Faced with expensive legal challenges,

officials in the eastern Nebraska town of Fremont are considering

suspending a voter-approved ban on hiring or renting property to

illegal immigrants until the lawsuits are resolved.

The City Council narrowly rejected the ban in 2008, prompting

supporters to gather enough signatures for the ballot measure. The

ordinance, which was approved by voters last month, has divided the

community. Supporters say it was necessary to make up for what they

see as lax federal law enforcement and opponents argue that it

could fuel discrimination.

But the council's president, Scott Getzschman, insisted the

elected body was concerned about money, not about any lack of

support for the ordinance. The City Council is scheduled to vote on

suspending the ban on Tuesday night, a day before the city goes to

court over the measure.

The city faces lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union

and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund. City

officials have estimated that Fremont's costs of implementing the

ordinance - including legal fees, employee overtime and improved

computer software - would average $1 million a year.

Getzschman said it's not clear how much money the city would

save by suspending enforcement of the ordinance. A court hearing is

scheduled for Wednesday, when a federal judge was expected to

consider whether to temporarily block the ban from taking effect as

scheduled Thursday. That hearing would likely still take place,

though it could be shorter than expected.

Getzschman insisted the council is trying to act in the city's

best interests and limit legal costs, even if the savings are

small. In the meantime, the city has postponed informational

meetings on the ban that were scheduled for this week.

"It just boils down to the fact that the restraining order and

injunction is imminent," Getzschman said. "And as a city of

Fremont, we're looking at ways of reducing costs."

Ricardo Meza, lead attorney for the Mexican American Legal

Defense & Educational Fund, said that while his group would support

a suspension of the ban, a court order temporarily blocking the

ordinance could still be needed if the language of the city's

resolution is unclear.

The ordinance has put Fremont on the list with Arizona and other

cities in the national debate over immigration regulations.

Arizona's sweeping law also takes effect Thursday and requires

police who stop people suspected of violating a law to check the

immigration status of anyone they think is in the country

illegally.

The ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund

say the Fremont ordinance amounts to discrimination.

It would require employers to use a federal online system that

checks whether a person is permitted to work in the U.S.

It also would require people seeking to rent property to apply

for a $5 permit at City Hall. Those who said they were citizens

would receive a permit and would not have to provide documents

proving their legal status. Those who said they weren't citizens

would receive permits, but their legal status would be checked. If

they're found to be in the country illegally and are unable to

resolve their status, they would be forced to leave the property.

Landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants could be

subject to $100 fines.

Amy Miller, legal director of ACLU Nebraska, said suspending the

ordinance would ensure her clients wouldn't be harmed and could

help heal some of the division in the city over the issue.

"If the City Council decides to stop the law from going into

effect themselves, that would be a step in the right direction,"

Miller said.