Two Ohio state legislators have launched a bid to block Ohio cities and their schools from enacting so-called sanctuary rules, after Dayton school officials enacted a policy to protect immigrant families.
Late last month, the Dayton Public Schools Board of Education voted to adopt a "Safe and Welcoming School District Resolution" that bars federal immigration agents from enforcing on school grounds without a warrant and prohibits the collection and release of data on students' immigration statuses to authorities. The resolution also mandates training for educational staff on how to respond to instances where immigration agents target school community members for enforcement.
"Our resolution required our district to do everything in its lawful power to protect our students' confidential information and ensure that our students' learning environments are not disrupted by immigration enforcement actions," says Mohamed Al-Hamdani, a school board member and attorney. "This was an important step to letting every immigrant in our community know that they are welcomed here."
But not everyone agrees. State Representatives Niraj Antani of Miamisburg and Candice Keller of Middletown, both Republicans, introduced a bill in the Ohio State House of Representatives last week that would reverse the Dayton schools' resolution and penalize its enforcement. The bill would "require state and local authorities to cooperate with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws, to sanction those that fail to do so, and to declare an emergency." State and municipal entities, like Dayton's public schools, that are found not to comply with the legislation would become ineligible for local government or Department of Homeland Security funding, which is used for school safety and emergency preparedness training.
The bill also enables victims of crimes committed by undocumented people to sue to remove a public officer in their jurisdiction from office if the public officer acted in any way not to comply with federal immigration enforcement there—whether by not cooperating with immigration agents or by enacting sanctuary policies to bar that cooperation. Among the several reasons that such a public officer could be dismissed from office would be if they "enforced or otherwise implemented a resolution, ordinance, order, rule, or policy that caused the county, township, or municipal corporation or the law enforcement agency that serves the county, township, or municipal corporation not to comply with the requirements" of the law.
The bill is still in committee, where it must pass a vote before being considered in the state House, and the state Senate. Insofar as the bill toes a Republican Party line on immigration, it does not stand to face much legislative pushback. Republicans occupy 61 of the Ohio State House's 99 seats and 23 of the State Senate's 33 seats.
Antani declined to comment for this story, and Keller did not immediately respond to requests.
Immigrant rights advocates blasted the proposed legislation. "Local policies that prohibit city officials, schools, and police from inquiring into a person's immigration status, racially profiling, or sharing personal information about immigrants are not only inclusive and just, but considered to be sound community policing practice," writes J. Bennett Guess, director of the ACLU of Ohio.
What's more, Guess suggests that the legislators may be overstepping their authority by mandating compliance with federal immigration authorities. "Immigration enforcement is not a local or state issue, Ohio has no business compelling cities and schools to do the federal government's job," Guess says. Those who do not believe state governments can override cities' or school districts' sanctuary policies cite a 2012 Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. United States, in which the court ruled that states may not participate in federal immigration enforcement. In that case, Arizona had enacted a law requiring local law enforcement to assist immigration agents. The justices found that, by helping federal agents, local authorities were actually overstepping their authority, engaging in a matter of federal jurisdiction.
However, the Supreme Court is set to hear a case as early as October, Kansas V. Garcia, that analysts say could stand to shift that interpretation of federalism to allow for greater cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration agents. On its face, the case is about whether Kansas can constitutionally prosecute undocumented people for using false Social Security numbers on federal employment eligibility documents. But a ruling in the case may establish greater leeway for cooperation between federal and state authorities on immigration, radically shifting the precedent set in Arizona v. United States. Such a ruling would potentially help the Ohio legislation's authors in a legal challenge over the constitutionality of their bill to demand collaboration with immigration authorities.
In the meantime, a fight looms between Dayton school officials and Ohio state legislators over immigration enforcement. Hamdani says that, although he was "disappointed" by the legislators' bill, he expected the pushback. "I would be lying if I stated that I was surprised by the over-the-top and at times racist and ethnocentric attacks that came toward me and the district. The immigration debate in our country has reached fever pitch and passion is high on both sides," he says.
Still, he remains committed to policies that he argues aim to safeguard Dayton school communities. "I will continue to fight for the right of every child in our city to receive a quality education. All students, no matter what they look like or where they come from, deserve nothing less than a safe and welcoming environment to learn," he says.
"Much of what ails our education system is caused by adult problems, the immigration debate is no different and should be left out of our schools and children's lives," Hamdani adds. "It's disheartening that some of our state leaders are paying more attention partisan politics rather than the real issues facing our local communities and our students."
Guess agrees that such policies are crucial to the welfare of children in the U.S.
"Cities can and should take all necessary steps, without state interference, to ensure that all residents, including undocumented immigrants, are treated with dignity and afforded due process," he says. "This includes local school districts, whose purpose is to educate children, not serve as immigration enforcement."