Sin cities

Dayton weighs undocumented immigrant police policy after executive order

By Sarah Sidlow


Phrase to know: “sanctuary city.” As in, not your imaginary safe haven where the coffee is always free and the home team always wins.

If the term rings a bell, it’s probably because it’s been in the news. A lot. So what is a sanctuary city? It’s a city that follows certain procedures to shelter undocumented immigrants. There’s no legal designation for a sanctuary city, and you won’t find it written on the welcome sign at the entrance to town. Rather, it’s a mutual understanding that government and law enforcement maaaay not be totally on board with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants and migrants. Because counties, rather than cities, typically run jails,  county policies have a huge role to play in turning over immigrants.

In case you were wondering, Dayton is not technically a sanctuary city, but it’s patted itself on the back for its “immigrant friendly” nature. The city’s Welcome Dayton program, which encourages immigrants and refugees to settle here is a major point of pride.

Some report there may be more than 300 sanctuary cities in 32 states and D.C. So, President Trump’s recent executive order is a VBD (very big deal). Trump’s executive order denies federal funding to cities, like Dayton, that don’t comply with federal deportation efforts.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl says law enforcement has worked hard to build relationships with members of the immigrant community, and in keeping with previous policy, he says police will not inquire about the immigration status of crime victims because that could lead to undocumented victims not reporting the crime at all.

Years-long protocol for the department has mandated reporting possible undocumented immigrants who are suspected of violent or drug trafficking felonies, as well as a risk to national security. To report felony property crimes or misdemeanors, officers have typically required approval from a division commander.

He says the executive order still will force his department to tweak their policies, adding that they will be “very thoughtful” about what comes next. Additionally, suspects accused of higher-level crimes will continue to be reported, as they had prior to Trump’s order. So, what’s the policy change in question? It’s what to do about low-level offenses committed by undocumented immigrants.

Our neighboring Cincinnati declared itself a sanctuary city last week, but a spokesperson from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (where most serious crimes in Cincinnati are processed), has confirmed this won’t change its policies—meaning the office will continue contacting the feds when they have custody of people they cannot I.D., aka who they consider suspects of unauthorized immigration.

In perfect harmony with the city’s new title, Cincinnati’s Police Chief Eliot Isaac has re-stated that the Cincinnati Police Department “will not be enforcing immigration laws,” which is a continuation of years-long protocol for the department.

In Columbus, city officials announced plans to create a legal-defense fund to help refugees and immigrants in central Ohio fight cases stemming from the executive orders. In other words, you can keep your money, and we’ll keep our immigrants.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced he will sign an executive order that bars basing an arrest or the denial of city services on a person’s immigration status. The order also will call on the city to support refugee settlement in Columbus and to oppose the use of city resources to enforce federal immigration policy. No mincing words there.

In Dayton, what’s the takeaway? Reporting perps of minor offenses would be following the rules of big daddy government. Some argue that’s what cities are supposed to do. Especially when federal funding is on the line. Plus, there’s that whole thing about how immigrants should go through the proper channels, become legal citizens, and follow the rules just like everyone else.

But to others, immigrants present more of an opportunity than a challenge. Many argue that having them around, especially in places like Dayton, actually boosts the economy, revitalizes the city and makes it more livable, if not also more interesting. Also, they say, let’s not forget these are human beings we’re talking about here. These are families, neighbors, friends, mentors who, in some cases, are being bullied out of the only home they know. Oh yeah, and a lot of people are wondering if Trump’s executive order is even legal, or constitutional. The decisions of individual counties, cities, and districts in the months and years to come will go a long way in shaping the course of the nation.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at



Debate Forum Question of the Week

Should Dayton Police start reporting undocumented immigrants stopped for low-level offenses
to the federal government?




By Ben Tomkins

I’m almost universally against policies that raise patently benign qualities of people, like race and “speaks Spanish,” to grounds for suspicion of illegal activity. “Possible undocumented immigrant” is a concept so fraught with thorns that it’s virtually code for a particular stereotype. Everyone is a de facto possible undocumented immigrant to a police officer until his or her citizenship is established, including you, me, and every other white person in the country. However, just because a police officer doesn’t know something doesn’t mean he has a right to an answer for that question.

It may seem like a reasonable matter for law enforcement to do a quick check of everyone’s citizenship status and report any anomalies to immigration officials, but any concession we make that allows an entity, government or otherwise, to go digging around in our personal lives should not be given away lightly. Donald Trump says of illegal immigration, “either we have a country or we don’t,” and I am very pleased, indeed, to take that prompt. America is founded on the principle that things work better when our government can’t go picking open our lockboxes and sifting through our personal papers any time it wants. I can understand presenting proof of citizenship to get a passport, but if I am pulled over for rolling through a stop sign, that in no way, shape, or form entails the need of state authorities to determine if I am eligible to fly overseas.

I don’t need my birth certificate to interact with government officials when I am in my car, and as such, I don’t grant them the right to see it, even if it would be awfully nice of me to hand it over. What I’m happy to hand over is a facsimile of the contract I’m referencing, signed by some pretty impressive figures in American history. From Amendment IV of that contract, I quote:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

We can make all the arguments we want about who “the people” are, but at the end of the day that’s a legal question that arises during due process, not a priori (self-evident at the time). Just because a government develops a new agenda aimed at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants doesn’t mean that particular searches and seizures and shortcuts in due process are now more reasonable than they were five minutes ago. The burden is on that government to demonstrate how the Constitution specifically backs that action up. The day we have to start convincing Big Brother why we should have our rights rather than vice-versa is the day we die. The rights of privacy and due process are unalienable. Either we have a country, or we don’t.

Further, it is absurd that local police should be reporting people to immigration officials just because they can’t prove who you are during that same traffic stop. An inability to demonstrate who you are at that moment does not rise to the level of suspicion that you aren’t a citizen. Due process only elevates that query to the level of “let’s figure out who this is,” and there are many, many other ways to do that. Again, due process is about limiting the government to what is reasonable for it to know to fulfill a specific purpose. Forgetting my license is not a green light for the machinations of government to start teasing apart my life with lice picks.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve talked all about me and my right, not about illegal immigrants. You’re damn right I have, because this is an all-or-nothing scenario. A brown person speaking Spanish who runs a stop sign hasn’t presented a single thing to a police officer that is different from a constitutional standpoint than a white person speaking English who runs a stop sign. Again, go take a look at the Constitution. The difference is what a government agenda has brought to the car window, and that’s a scary thought. If we tolerate the notion that the constitutional protections we enjoy change for individuals just because the government wants to do something, we are in big trouble.

Either we have a country or we don’t, and we should be awfully careful about how we conceptualize it. We are moving into a dangerous era when we have a president who conducts himself as if he’s right, and it’s up to you to convince him otherwise. Well, I claim the rights bestowed upon me by the Constitution, and I claim them for everyone else who lives here, as well. I will not trade off my rights in the name of immigration.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit Reach him at



Welcome immigrants, not criminals

By David H. Landon

As a country of immigrants, America has demonstrated an ability to welcome a diverse population from all around the world for nearly 250 years. We have not only found a place for these travelers who are seeking a better life, but we have also absorbed them into the fabric of our identity as a people.

I have often written that America is more than a place; America is series of ideas put into action by one people. One idea is the brilliant concept of a government that allows individuals the freedom to achieve whatever they may dream. Another idea that helps form the bedrock of this country and our people is that we are a nation of laws and not of men.

Our country is witnessing a painful clash of these two ideas. Because we have done a poor job of securing our southern border, millions of immigrants have illegally come into this country. A vast majority has come seeking a better life for themselves and their families; others have come to continue criminal endeavors of drugs and other crimes. The idea of American freedom attracts these immigrants. But it is the premise of America as a nation of laws that now starkly confronts those who have entered illegally.

America legally accepts about 1 million immigrants per year. As many as an estimated 12 million people live here illegally, about half of whom come from Mexico. Many estimate that 500,000 or more people enter the country illegally every year. Most would agree that the immigration system in this country is a mess. The Trump administration has begun the task of bringing some kind of order to the current chaos. Of the 12 million, nearly 40 percent have entered the country legally and have overstayed their visa. How to identify foreigners who fail to go home when their visas expire is emerging as a key question as President Trump works to overhaul immigration law.

Adding to this complicated issue of immigration we have the fairly recent policy decisions of many American cities to designate themselves as “sanctuary cities.” What exactly that means depends on the locale. Generally speaking, it is a policy that gives illegal aliens a safe zone where their legal status will not be an issue if they come into contact with the law enforcement or other governmental authorities. The argument for such policies is that this population is vulnerable to becoming victims of crime. Without these policies those crimes often go unreported, as the victim would be afraid to report the crime, fearing exposure of the illegal status. In sanctuary cities, other social services are made available to these individuals without concern for their legal status. This practice runs counter to federal law.

President Trump campaigned on a promise to bring sanctuary cities into compliance with federal law. The many horrific stories of illegal aliens bringing harm to law-abiding citizens in sanctuary cities fueled Trump’s campaign. The public was justly outraged by accounts of illegals injuring and killing American citizens after having been released from local authorities in sanctuary cities. The new president has made it clear that if local governments fail to follow federal law regarding the reporting of these individuals to the proper federal authorities, they will face the possibility of losing federal funding.

Dayton has initiated policies, with a program called Welcome Dayton that encourages immigrants to settle here. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. It’s a positive for the city to welcome these diverse populations seeking the promise of the American dream. Dayton now supports a growing Turkish population settling in Old North Dayton, which is restoring and revitalizing that neighborhood and its rich history of Slovakian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants. This is a community made up of legal immigrants. These folks are not the problem. The problem arises when other illegal aliens make Dayton their home and violate state or local law.

Under federal law, Dayton authorities are required to report such acts to the federal government. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) requires law enforcement agencies to hold an undocumented individual following release from local authorities, allowing agents to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody for removal to the individual’s original country. At the present time, the Dayton police, according to Chief Richard Biehl, already contact immigration authorities when they have suspects who are accused of higher-level crimes. The chief acknowledged that policies regarding low-level offenses will need some minor adjustment.

I believe that to be compliant with the Trump directive, the Dayton police must now report those undocumented individuals who have not only committed felonies but also those who have committed types of misdemeanors that have brought injury to other persons and property. Driving under the influence and hit-skip-type offenses put the general public in danger. These individuals should now be detained for federal authorities. Perhaps Dayton was already holding these individuals—but now they must to comply with the federal order.

While there is no timetable yet set by the Trump’s administration for the enforcement of his immigration policy, there is the high likelihood that he will begin by deporting those undocumented individuals who have most flagrantly violated U.S. law. Once the dust settles from that undertaking, we can see what the policy has in store for the lower-level offenders.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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