The Immigration Debate in Ohio

In a year filled with news stories related to immigration, the story of Akron resident Leonor Garcia still managed to make national news. Bringing the immigration debate close to home.

Garcia is a Mexican national who has lived without proper documentation in America for two decades. She attended what she believed would be a routine meeting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on August 1, 2017. The meeting, however, turned out to be very different for Garcia, who was affixed with an ankle monitor and told she would be deported on September 14.

Taking sanctuary in a church

Garcia, the sole supporter of her four American children, took advantage of a little-known ancient tradition. She headed to a local church and declaring Forest Hills Presbyterian Church a sanctuary. The pastor, after discussing the issue with his congregation, is allowing the woman to indefinitely live at the church until she can “resolve her immigration issues”. The pastor notes that Garcia is “involved in her community, has no criminal record and is a good person”.

While there is no law forbidding ICE agents from raiding a church, the government agency’s policy directs agents to “avoid conducting enforcement activities in sensitive areas,” which typically include schools, churches, and hospitals. Unlike the diplomatic immunity provided to foreign embassies, ICE’s policy could be changed at any time.

The attempted deportation of Garcia, a mother with no criminal record and four American children, mirrors a larger trend in Ohio and throughout the rest of the country. The number of immigrants arrested in the local region without any criminal record more than doubled this past year from 476 to 1,101, according to Individuals with an arrest record or a prior conviction were also deported at a higher rate, increasing from 1,745 in 2016 to 2,308 in 2017.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are digging in on the immigration debate

In Ohio, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are digging in on the immigration debate.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, a recent bill passed by House Republicans sought to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving workers’ compensation in the event of an on-the-job injury. According to the same newspaper, the bill is unlikely to become a law because Senate Republicans worry that the bill would only incentivize employers to hire undocumented workers, knowing they will never have to pay for any workers’ compensation claims.

Debating Sanctuary Cities

The topic of sanctuary cities has also ignited debate and legislation throughout the Buckeye State.

Sanctuary cities are broadly defined as cities where the local government and law enforcement will limit assisting federal immigration officials in identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants.

According to Cleveland 19, Ohio’s eight “sanctuary cities” include Columbus, Dayton, Lake County, Lima, Lorain, Lucas County, Oberlin, and Painesville.

A bill introduced in the state legislature, however, may reduce the number of sanctuary cities in the state to zero, as the proposed legislation seeks to ban sanctuary cities within the state.

That bill, however, appears to be going nowhere; there have been no committee hearings and, according to the author of the bill, Rep. Bill Blessing, “We are not planning on having any hearings at the moment. There’s a lot of work we would have to do with the cities to get some momentum on that bill.”

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