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Columbus Launches New American Community Effort

The City of Columbus is taking additional steps to build on its status as a welcoming community to immigrants and refugees. Mike Foley reports.

In February, Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther issued an executive order reaffirming the city’s respect for the rights of all residents regardless of their national origin or immigration status. Columbus City Council wants to make that order more permanent, so it becomes a policy that lasts beyond the current city administration. Council’s human resource director Brian Shinn explains.

“We have drafted an ordinance that would prohibit any denial of city services based upon immigration status, solicitation of information about immigration status, use of any city resources for the sole purpose of detecting or apprehending an individual based upon suspected immigration status, and requesting any information about a person’s immigration status or investigating a person’s immigration status. Codifying these portions of the mayor’s executive order would create a situation where any city employee found to have violated this could be subject to discipline which could include removal.”

Council member Elizabeth Brown it’s a moral issue for the city defining what the city cares about. But she notes it’s also an economic issue. According to estimates, immigrant households in Columbus contributed close to a million dollars in local, state and federal taxes during 2014. Brown says she has concerns about how immigrants are treated for simple traffic violations, citing one recent example involving a mother of 3.

“No one should be deported and ripped from their children for rolling through a stop sign. I accompanied a woman to her check-in with ICE last week. She has three children. One of them has decided she wants to be an immigration lawyer. She saw two years ago her mother get treated terribly by an ICE agent who slapped an ankle bracelet on her that only through the resources of this city did she have the ability to take it off. The agent who has her case that treats her well was gone for training, and the agent that put her and her family through hell was the person there. And I saw the fear in her eyes. This woman shouldn’t have to be going through this due to a traffic violation.”

Council President Zach Klein says his office, in consultation with the City Attorney, will conduct a full city criminal code evaluation to make sure penalties match the crimes. That will include a review of what exactly constitutes a criminal violation, and what’s a civil offense. The city will begin a comprehensive study to identify gaps in social services. Ohio State University will lead the study, as the College of Social Work’s Dean Tom Gregoire explains.

“Looking at how things have changed and getting a little deeper. It’s one thing to have a listing of what an agency does but does it really do it now, does it do it in the language we need it done. We’ll supplement that further by conducting interviews in the community. So what we’ll provide to the council is a study of those services and also mapping. Sometimes it happens that formal services don’t live exactly where they should be based on how a community has emerged. We’re going to pull this off by the end of 2017.”

The study will also include a legal component as Councilmember Brown noted studies that have shown immigrants are ten times more likely to earn their right to be in the U.S. if they have legal representation and knowledge of their rights.  Councilmembers received public testimony from 8 speakers, with all applauding the city’s efforts. Sudarshan Sharma – a native of Bhutan - offered this passionate plea.

“How many times should we in our life be stripped away of something that we think is ours – this is crucial to me, my identity. Many of times this happened in Bhutan. We were in refugee camps, and then we moved to the United States with big hopes and aspirations. But in the United States, we have been moving over and over and over. Finally we found Columbus as a welcoming city. I hope the acknowledgement that we are getting here is true. We are tired of moving. We want to be settled. We want to make Columbus our home. Please support us. Hear our voices.” 

The city has also created some information cards to distribute to immigrant communities to let them know that when they call the city’s information center, they will be connected to someone that speaks their language. The legislation codifying the mayor’s executive order is scheduled for a first reading before council May 22nd.

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.
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