Dayton, Ohio Proclaims Itself Immigrant-Friendly

Dayton train station

A unanimous City Commission voted on October 5, 2011 to make Dayton, Ohio an “immigrant-friendly city.” The “Welcome Dayton” plan aims to make the city open and welcoming to all people, regardless of citizenship. Mayor Gary Leitzell states that the plan “focuses on making our community one that treats all people kindly, fairly and humanely.” The plan will involve immigrants in an effort to reverse the city’s economic downturn by supporting business development by immigrants, involving immigrants in government and the community, and working to reduce language barriers.

Supporters of the proposal cited a study by University of Dayton sociology professor Jamie Longazel on the effect of a crackdown on immigration in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Both cities suffer from a decaying urban center and a shortage of jobs, but Hazelton’s effort drove away many people who were helping grow the local economy. Professor Longazel said that Dayton has a chance to do something different which should help the city’s economy grow.

The measure’s supporters also make clear that the word “immigrant” is not synonymous with “illegal immigrant.” Critics expressed concern that the plan could open the door, so to speak, to settlement of undocumented immigrants in the city in greater numbers. Responding to concerns about possibly harboring immigrants without legal status, the mayor said: “If you are an illegal immigrant, you will be subjected to the same federal laws as anyone else.” Police Chief Richard Biehl noted studies showing that crime and recidivism rates among illegal immigrants are no higher than the general population.

Dayton’s approach of leaving enforcement of immigration laws to federal officials is in marked contrast to policies adopted elsewhere in the country, particularly in states like Arizona and Alabama. Laws passed in those states often require state and local law enforcement to make determinations as to a person’s immigration status. The U.S. Constitution gives authority over immigration to the federal government, which enforces its laws through agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and, formerly, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Local law enforcement often lacks training in the complex system of statuses and rights in the immigration system. Even a person who does not have documentation on their person may still have a legal right to be present in the U.S., and local law enforcement does not have the authority to make any sort of final determination.

In enacting this plan, Dayton has not declared itself to be a “sanctuary city,” although it may appear that way. “Sanctuary cities” are cities that have declared that local law enforcement will not inquire as to anyone’s immigration status. A federal law passed in 1996 addressed such policies, requiring cities to allow their employees to report immigration offenses to federal authorities. The law also enabled local law enforcement to receive training in immigration law, but it did not confer any authority to enforce those laws. Thirty-one cities currently identify as sanctuary cities, including Chicago and Detroit.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps guide people seeking to visit or immigrate to the United States through the complex legal processes. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404.

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