Proposed Ohio legislation would give local law enforcement officers
unprecedented arrest and deportation powers against undocumented migrants
By Alan Abrams
La Prensa Senior Correspondent
An Ohio legislator is hours away from bringing forth a controversial bill to give local law enforcement officers—such as county sheriffs—virtually unprecedented powers to arrest and detain undocumented migrants.
The bill could be ready as early as this week, says its sponsor, Rep. Courtney E. Combs, a Republican, whose 54th district includes Butler County and the city of Hamilton.
“We’ve been working on it for the last six weeks. We’ve sent it to our legal department for review. The bill has already been put together. We’re trying to come up with something that will work and is logical,” says Combs.
He believes that the bill, which grants draconian powers to local law enforcement agencies, could be enacted into law early next year.
“My goal is to have it introduced and into committee by the end of the year. And I expect it to receive strong bipartisan support,” says Combs. He declined to provide a copy of the text, but consented to explain its main provisions.
“The bill says that local law enforcement has a right to detain undocumented migrants and report their detainment to ICE,” explains Combs.
ICE is the new post 9-11 agency that has replaced the former INS.
Combs says the bill would legalize local governments billing the federal government for housing illegal immigrants in jails. “That has already done in Butler County where Sheriff Richard K. Jones has sent a bill to ICE, but it has not been specified in law,” explains Combs.
There’s more to the proposed bill in terms of penalties against employers who hire illegal aliens. As Combs explains it, “An employer, if he has knowledge that people are illegally in this country, will be stripped of his rights to tax breaks.”
That could mean major problems for employers such as Wal-Mart, acknowledges Combs.
Why the penalties against employers? “We want this bill to have some teeth to it,” says Combs. “We looked at trespassing charges, but several municipalities on the East Coast tried it and the law was stricken. We want, of course, to have a bill that would be constitutional and the law enforceable.
“If the federal government were doing its job, the Ohio General Assembly would not be taking this step,” says Combs, a close ally of controversial Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones.
Jones’s controversial Web site, dominated by a photograph of the sheriff and the huge yellow “Illegal Aliens here” sign he has posted outside the county jail, encourages the county’s residents to report illegal immigrants on line rather than calling the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve had a huge reaction to the site since the first day it hit” says Jones. Asked what kind of response he is receiving, he replies, “It’s a mixture. People agree with it or they don’t agree.”
Jones’s posting also includes a blog where readers can post their comments and where Jones frequently adds his thoughts as well. “Seventy-five percent of the people who post their comments agree with it. I also receive a lot of e-mail messages and phone calls. That's because it is such an emotional issue,” he says.
“Most people in public office choose not to say how they really feel about illegal aliens, but it is a problem that needs to be discussed. And because of my Web site, if nothing else, it is being discussed. But it needs to be resolved, one way or another,” adds Jones.
Jones believes immigration laws need to be changed. “It is not easy to become a U.S. citizen. You have to earn it. Many people come here from other countries, but they come here legally. This is a very emotional issue.”
He says he has received support from other sheriffs in Ohio. He says he has been working closely with Sheriff Daniel Beck of Allen County. Beck, who has been publicly criticized by the ACLU for his policy of racial profiling, did not return phone messages from this reporter.
However, one anonymous posting on his site is from a Northwest Ohio Deputy Sheriff who supports Jones’s policies and wishes his county had a similar program in operation.
“People are excited that this issue is out in the open,” says Jones, citing Rep. Combs proposed legislation which Jones also claims will receive strong bipartisan support.
But why the strong response from Jones singling out undocumented migrants as offenders? “That’s because we receive lots of complaints about them,” Jones explains. “They are pulled over for a traffic offense and they do not have a driver’s license. When it is time for them to go to court, they don’t show up.”
However Jones denies he is only singling out Mexicans. “They can be from Russia. People know there’s work to be found in this county so they come here to find it.”
Jones also claims that undocumented migrants “do not pay their fair share of taxes for such things as roads. But they get to use our hospitals. In America, you’ve got to pay your fair share.
“Our jails are filling up with illegal aliens. While they are here, they are committing crimes like rape, robbery and arson. That’s why I have billed the federal government for their keep while they are in jail.
“If the federal government were doing its job, this wouldn’t be necessary. The State of Ohio is one of the first to guard its own borders and keep illegal aliens from trespassing into the United States. Gov. Bill Richardson learned that he had to do this in New Mexico and he stopped the flow. And Richardson is Hispanic,” says Jones.
“We are just asking people to report illegals and they are doing this from all over the United States. This is a large issue and we are just stepping up to the plate,” says Jones.
Isn’t Jones concerned that there may be some misuse of the undocumented migrant reporting procedure by people with grudges against neighbors? He concedes there have been some occasions where this has happened, “but they have been more than offset by other gangs using the program to report their competitor drug dealers or prostitution rings and getting them off the streets.”
He bristles at accusations that his actions are racist. “I am not a Nazi. I am not a bigot. I am not a racist,” says Jones.
“My constituents want this done. My people have to live with this situation,” he adds.
He is critical of how the former INS dealt with illegal aliens. “They just catch them and release them. But here we have Ohio in the middle of the country that has come up with a law We can arrest illegal aliens and enforce the law against them for trespassing,” says Jones.
Under Jones, Butler County has also brought back the use of chain gangs for prisoners. “Only one other sheriff in the country is doing this, and he’s out in Arizona,” says Jones proudly.
Jones’s Web site has not gone unnoticed by the ACLU. “I just received what I call a Christmas package from them,” he says. Was it a formal complaint? Jones says it is more of an “information search.”
He is highly critical of how President George W. Bush has handled the immigration reform issue. “I’m a conservative Republican,” says Jones, “and I support almost everything the president has done. But on the issue of immigration reform, I give him a F-minus.”