Supreme Court immigration decision has Ohio implications
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
June 25, 2012: The highly-debated U.S. Supreme Court decision on the controversial Arizona immigration law could have a lasting impact for Latinos in Ohio. There is particular concern among legal scholars and Latino leaders that racial profiling may be the norm.
Baldemar Velásquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, stated the court decision sets the stage for comprehensive immigration reform, when taken alongside the president’s recent executive order that undocumented immigrant students would not be deported. But he is particularly concerned about the “show me your papers” provision being left intact.
“I see it as a step in the right direction. It sends a message to the states that immigration is a federal matter, not a state matter,” he said. “The part left intact encourages profiling. But the Supreme Court left it open to strike that down too, if it’s enforced in a negative way. We hope to push the button on that issue, because this is a continuous struggle.”
FLOC currently has a lawsuit pending on behalf of several migrant farmworkers, alleging the U.S. Border Patrol taught and conspired with three local police departments in rural Northwest Ohio to conduct racial profile in a search for undocumented immigrants.
“I think we have to be vigilant,” said Velásquez. “We need to pursue that kind of litigation to hold them accountable for those kinds of abuses.”
Daniel Steinbock, dean of the University of Toledo, College of Law, stated there “absolutely” is the possibility racial profiling could occur in Ohio under a provision of the Arizona law the Supreme Court left intact allowing law enforcement to question the immigration status of someone pulled over for a driving offense.
Steinbock explained that an immigration investigation only can be triggered as a secondary offense, similar to Ohio’s ban on texting while driving.
But the UT law school dean fears migrant farmworkers and others in Northwest Ohio could still be a target of “driving while brown.” Steinbock stated police officers “might get away with it” by contacting federal authorities on their own if they suspect someone is in the U.S. without documentation.
“If somebody is stopped for a crime or arrested for a crime and there what is known as is ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they’re an unauthorized immigrant, then they can be investigated for that fact,” Steinbock said. “The potential for racial profiling, I think, is quite high, because what gives you reasonable suspicion someone is not a citizen and not a lawful immigrant?”
“Local police departments, although they’re not federal agents, use their discretion as police officers to do all kinds of crazy stuff,” Velásquez added.
Steinbock pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed “apparent Mexican ancestry to be a factor” in investigating other immigration cases.
“But they should not be pulled over just because an officer thinks they look Hispanic,” said Steinbock. “He or she doesn’t know if somebody’s here illegally or not. They can’t distinguish at that point, so everyone who’s stopped and looks Hispanic can be subjected to this, including natural-born citizens.”
Recent arrest incident in Toledo
Velásquez pointed to a recent incident where four Latinos were searched for proper documentation after a Toledo police officer pulled one of them over for driving without a license. The FLOC leader called it “improper” to ask for identification from the car’s passengers without probable cause.
One of the passengers had a valid driver’s license and Social Security card, but had left it in another car. He was taken to the police station because he had no documents on him.
“That’s just really totally uncalled for,” he said. “If I was a Mexican police officer in Toledo doing that to white people, because they look funny and talk with an accent and I think they’re from some European country, I think they’d be hollering all over the place.”
The FLOC president is now concerned that racial profiling may become the norm in Toledo as a new police chief fights gang and gun violence in the central city.
“The new police chief may not know anything about this issue,” he said. “So we’ll be trying to arrange a meeting at some point down the road when we get our community people together on this issue.”
Velásquez pointed out FLOC and other Latino leaders had “an understanding” with former police chief Mike Navarre and outgoing Lucas County Sheriff Jim Telb about how sensitive the immigrant and Mexican communities are to contact with the police.
“We convinced them they want the Latino community to be helpful with police in solving crimes,” he said. “If they’re afraid to go to the police or if you have an undocumented worker who is being indentured or coerced or abused or robbed of money and he’s afraid to report the crime to the police, the criminals will continue to do what it is that they do.”
There is concern the Supreme Court decision may renew the fears undocumented immigrants and other Latinos previously had toward law enforcement. The FLOC founder is particularly concerned if word spreads of the recent Toledo police incident.
“It is better to have a community on your side than doubting who you are or whether you’re going to abuse them or a family member,” said Velásquez. “Local police ought to be out enforcing local laws, not federal laws.”
“I don’t think it’s going to unleash a wave of discriminatory checking at this point, once they see how it is applied,” he said, predicting the provision may eventually be struck down as the case is remanded back to lower state and federal courts for consideration on other constitutional grounds.
The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union applauded the Supreme Court decision in a statement, vowing to be the organization to get rid of the “show me your papers” provision of the Arizona immigration law in future court cases as it continues to fight racial profiling.
“This decision clearly shows that the federal government is responsible for creating and enforcing immigration policy, not the state of Arizona,” said Christine Link, executive director of ACLU-Ohio. “The court’s ruling bolsters our arguments and serves as a prelude to the work we will do to ensure that no one is unconstitutionally targeted because of their race or ethnicity — in Arizona, Ohio or anywhere else.”
The ACLU pointed out migrant workers and others should feel a sense of relief that the Supreme Court struck down any requirement that all immigrants obtain or carry registration papers. It also struck a provision that would allow for the warrantless arrest of undocumented immigrants and another that would criminalize employment for all undocumented workers.
The civil liberties group also noted the high court made clear that its decision on the “show me your papers” provision will not affect any legal challenges that argue against the law on different grounds. Those challenges were delayed, pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case, but now can move forward.
“The court did not strike down “show me your papers” but they certainly didn’t endorse it,” said Ms. Link. “Our argument that “show me your papers” provisions invite unconstitutional racial profiling will be decided another day.”
Ohio version of the DREAM Act
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision that federal law trumps state statutes on immigration issues, a pair of Ohio lawmakers recently proposed what they’re calling the Ohio version of the DREAM Act. The bill is designed to make the children of illegal immigrants eligible for in-state tuition and financial aid.
“This bill is necessary to offer all students the chance of achieving the American dream,” Sen. Charleta Tavares, (D-Columbus) told the Columbus Dispatch. “This country was built on the foundation of encouraging individuals to reach their highest potential. We should not penalize young people for striving for success.”
The bill is modeled after similar state laws in Texas and California. To be eligible, an individual must graduate from an Ohio high school, have attended high school in Ohio for three years before graduation, register as an entering student not earlier than fall 2012, and provide the college or university with an affidavit stating that student will file an application to become a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident.