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‘Inclusive Community’ legislation pending in Toledo

By La Prensa Staff


Could Toledo become the latest “inclusive community” for immigrants?


According to its drafters, there’s bound to be some local political fireworks in the next few weeks over this quest—right in the middle of an already divisive presidential campaign where race relations and immigration are hot-button topics.


The proposed legislation, among other things, would restrict City of Toledo staff, including the Toledo Police Dept., from participating in immigration enforcement, asking immigration status of residents, and partnering with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 


The legislation is being promoted by city council members Nick Komives, Theresa Gadus, and Sam Melden. All three participated in a presentation to the Latino Alliance during a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.


“The term ‘sanctuary city’ has [often been used] become very politicized, has become very negative in a lot of ways, so we attempt to get away from it because the term implies nothing,” said Komives. “There’s nothing, no laws that come with it. It’s just a blanket term for any community that wants to separate themselves from ICE or immigration authorities.”


“I think the sanctuary city label could actually be an asset to us,” said Melden. “I’ve had so many calls and emails where people hope we’re not trying to turn us into a sanctuary city. I just tell them it has nothing to do with that and they just move on.”


Even Latino Alliance members were divided on whether the term sanctuary city should be used.


“Why are we not calling it what it is, unless it’s different,” Mark Urrutia wondered aloud. “It seems deceptive to me, to get around people with different views. I think we need to be inclusive and hear everyone’s opinion. I think it’s truth in labeling. Let’s say what it is so there can be more dialogue.”


“I think sanctuary city already has some stereotypes and connotations that if presented that way, people already make a judgment on the policy without reading the content because there are such strong feelings attached to it,” countered Martha Delgado. “I have the opposite feeling. If I hear the term sanctuary city, I feel really good about that. I don’t think everyone who hears that term thinks negative thoughts. For me, it’s yes—I believe in sanctuary cities.”


“We have already declared ourselves a welcoming city. This is an extension of that,” said Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) attorney Reem Subei, who helped to explain the impetus for the proposed legislation. “Because we are a welcoming city, we are going to ensure that everyone has equal treatment. This equal treatment protection is a basic right.”


Ms. Subei told the Latino Alliance meeting the legislation ensures “people who have different citizenship, immigration status, national origin, race, and ethnicity are not discriminated against.” While she pointed out many of those protections are guaranteed already by federal law, the ABLE attorney charged many of those “are very tenuous, which makes it difficult for people to recognize them and for cities to enforce them.”


The legislation would require that city officials who obtain private information from people who apply for city services or assistance won’t share that information with federal authorities. Ms. Subei believes that will restore the “trust and confidence people can have in their local law enforcement,” calling it “something the city should be doing but we are making sure they know this right is enshrined in the legal code.”


“In immigration enforcement, local police are not there to enforce federal law,” said Ms. Subei. “There are federal agencies designated to enforce that law. That is their purview.”


She stated the federal government routinely violates the civil rights of the undocumented and others, so it’s important to “protect us, protect our tax dollars, and protect the city of Toledo from getting entangled in violations of those civil rights.” The legislation plainly states Toledo police officers won’t get involved in the enforcement of civil immigration law or use local resources to assist the Dept. of Homeland Security or other federal agencies.


The proposed ordinance is modeled after similar legislation passed in other cities, according to Ms. Subei, who stated the legislation “has already been defended in courts.”


“Toledo would not be unique in this,” she said. The legislation was introduced over the summer.


“To me, Toledoans just have to decide. Are we going to be proud of our heritage as a city of immigrants? That’s what we are. Are we going to be proud of being a compassionate community? Is that who we are?” asked Melden. “Or are we just going to operate and cooperate with this craziness that goes on? I’m all in. I’m ready to call this false narrative to the carpet—treating people the way we’ve been treating them in this country. I think Toledo is in this position where we have to choose. Either we’re a compassionate community or we’re not.”


Komives predicted there would be at least one or two public hearings necessary to get testimony and tweak the legislation, which currently lacks any penalties for a city employee or police officer who uses local government resources to assist ICE or federal authorities. That is a target of the three council members to add to the legislation in the coming weeks. Komives expects full city council consideration sometime this fall.


“Certainly, there will likely be some organized opposition to this. I fully anticipate that,” he said. “There is not an enforcement mechanism that we’ve put in place yet. The legislation is incomplete in that sense. We are still working out what that might look like.”


Ms. Suemi pointed out the legislation currently has a complaint process for Toledo residents, which would trigger an investigation and possible discipline.


Lourdes Santiago pointed out there already is a “code of conduct” agreement between Toledo police and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), outlining how officers would conduct themselves with the Latino community, especially on immigration matters. She wondered how the legislation would affect that document, which was signed in 2017.


“We’re still seeing interaction, participation, and cooperation with federal agents around immigration, regardless of the existence that document or not,” alleged Komives. “This would really bolster and strengthen those protections we’re trying to add.”


“However, if there’s no enforcement mechanism and no penalty section, it’s toothless,” Ms. Santiago said of the proposed ordinance.


What also is unclear to the city council sponsors is whether the proposed ordinance will receive support from Toledo’s mayor, who invited them to a recent presentation by federal authorities.


“Personally, (I) was very unimpressed by the presentation given to us. It was, in my opinion, kind of smug,” said Komives. “We’ve heard it all from that side.”


Komives told the Latino Alliance the trio has been warned that passing the inclusive community ordinance could cost Toledo a lot of federal grant dollars. But he stated city administrators have yet to provide more exact information on what federal aid would be lost and what grants Toledo already has been awarded.


One councilman admitted debate over the proposed ordinance could be further clouded by the current state of race relations and police protests across the county and calls for police reforms and even “defunding” local police agencies. Melden called the timing “unfortunate.”


“That’s really just an unfortunate, tangled web. Because, to the degree this has any implications how TPD handles day-to-day operations, that can quickly become part of this much larger conversation about are you pro-police or not?” he said. “That’s the rhetoric in the community: are you pro-police or not? I think the mayor will be influenced by that larger, much heavier part of the conversation. That’s my gut (feeling).”


The three city council members asked and encouraged Latino Alliance participants to promote the legislation to their contacts within the community, hoping to gather some public support.





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Revised: 09/01/20 15:46:25 -0700.




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