Arizona’s controversial immigration law aroused nationwide cries of protest this summer. It also got a lot of support. Today, a growing number of copycat bills and ordinances are springing up across the United States in non-traditional immigrant areas, from Indiana to Virginia to Ohio.
The Arizona law requires people to carry immigration documents and allows police to ask the legal status of people that are stopped. The Obama Administration successfully sued to stop some provisions of the law from being enforced.
In Butler County, Ohio, a colorful local sheriff has thrown his weight behind the effort to pass an Arizona-type law in his state. Sheriff Richard Jones says undocumented immigrants have become a problem in his county, sucking up public funds and straining his department’s resources. He says undocumented immigrants have committed “horrendous crimes.”
“Just here in Butler County we had a nine-year old girl raped by an illegal,” Jones says. “We also recently had a 64-year-old woman that was kidnapped, beat and raped by an illegal.”
Jones often refers to these two crimes to make his case against undocumented immigrants, although he concedes that there’s no evidence that undocumented immigrants in Butler County commit more crime than any other population.
Butler County, located in southwest Ohio near Cincinnati, has seen its Latino population swell in the past decade. Many Latinos came to Ohio to work in what was a booming construction industry.
A few years ago, Jones put up billboards plastered with his giant image – arms folded across his chest – warning businesses that hiring “Illegals” is against the law. Jones also had a sign outside his jail with an arrow that said “illegal aliens here.” Jones says he did all this to get the federal government’s attention for not enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.
Many Latinos say Sheriff Jones is scapegoating their community. Jason Riveiro with the Latino advocacy group LULAC says Jones has created a society of fear, that his actions and words are criminalizing their whole community, blowing isolated incidents out of proportion.
“For me to say that immigrants don’t commit crime would be a lie,” says Riveiro. “Populations all have crimes and they commit crimes. And that’s really the big problem that we have with Mr. Jones pointing out if someone who is undocumented breaks a law or rapes someone, does that paint a picture for all that are here undocumented? No, of course not.”
Some local business owners, like Mexican-born U.S. citizen Lourdes Leon who runs a taqueria, say if Ohio passes an Arizona-style immigration law it would destroy her business. She says Latinos will be afraid to hang around her restaurant. “I would close the doors. I would close the business.”
Many Latinos in southwest Ohio say Washington needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. They worry that a local immigration law, like Arizona’s, could open the way toward racial profiling, and that police could look for any excuse to pull people over with brown skin to inquire of their documentation status.
Sheriff Jones bristles at that. “It’s the same thing they’ve always referred to as racism and bigotry. If I get stopped or I go into a building, I have to show proper ID. It doesn’t offend me,” says Jones. “Welcome to America, this is a free society but we do have laws here. And one of them is you have to be here legally.” Download MP3
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LISA MULLINS: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The economy may be the number one issue in America this election season. But immigration is never far from the top of the US political agenda. Republicans and Democrats in Washington see a need to fix the nation’s immigration system. They just can’t agree on how. That stalemate at the national level prompted the state of Arizona to pass its controversial immigration law. It requires police to check the status of anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country illegally. Arizona’s law isn’t unique. Legislators in other states are considering similar bills. And they’ve been sparking similar controversy. The World’s Jason Margolis tells us how the issue is now playing out in southwestern Ohio.
JASON MARGOLIS: If you’re going to get arrested, you don’t want it to happen in Butler County, Ohio. That’s where Sheriff Richard Jones runs the jail.
RICHARD JONES: I don’t do it like Hotel Eight, or whatever it is, where they get a little chocolate on their pillow every night. They come here, they have to go out and pick up trash, and they have to wear little striped pants, like they did back in the ‘20s when the chain gangs were out on the street.
MARGOLIS: Jones is a big, intimidating man with a serious Yosemite Sam moustache. And he’s set his sites on clearing undocumented immigrants out of his county. A few years ago, Jones put up billboards plastered with his giant image, arms folded across his chest, warning businesses that hiring “illegals” is against the law. Jones also had a sign outside his jail with an arrow that said “illegal aliens here.” He says he did all this to get the federal government’s attention.
JONES: Just here in Butler County we had a nine-year-old girl raped by an illegal. We also recently had a 64-year-old woman that was kidnapped, beat and raped by an illegal.
MARGOLIS: Jones regularly refers to these two crimes to make his case against undocumented immigrants. Although when pressed, Jones concedes that there’s no evidence that illegal immigrants in Butler County commit more crime than anyone else. Still, Jones is taking his battle against undocumented immigrants a step further. He’s throwing his weight and notoriety behind a proposed state bill that would mimic the law in Arizona. Republican state lawmaker Courtney Combs drafted the Ohio bill.
COURTNEY COMBS: I believe that Arizona has led the way to rock the boat, and has rocked the boat enough that it’s got the attention of Washington. And the more states that come involved in this, and the more people that get involved with it, the more they’re going to listen.
MARGOLIS: Combs says he decided to draft an Arizona-style bill after he and Sheriff Jones visited a sheriff on the Arizona-Mexico border in Cochise County. Combs says he heard firsthand accounts of the violence there and decided something needed to be done.
COMBS: People ask me, well you’re in Ohio. What do you care about the Mexican border? Well, between the two sheriffs, the sheriff of Cochise County and the sheriff of Butler County, they have tracked drugs directly from Cochise County into Butler County.
MARGOLIS: Combs isn’t alone in thinking that his state needs a law like Arizona’s.
LEO PIERSON: We’re looking at these issues in Iowa, in Indiana, in Ohio. We’re looking at this problem really all over the country.
MARGOLIS: Leo Pierson is a sociologist at Cincinnati State. He says tough measures aimed at immigrants, legal and illegal, are cropping up because more Latinos are settling in non-traditional immigrant destinations, places like southwest Ohio.
PIERSON: Right, when you have a traditional community where everybody looks like each other, and they abide by the same, sociologically speaking, norms, and mores and cultural background, they speak the same language and they know each other’s families going back three generations. And then all of a sudden, within the last 15 years, a separate group that doesn’t look like them, doesn’t speak their language, and doesn’t abide by the same norms of the community comes in, people get scared.
MARGOLIS: In Southwest Ohio, many Latinos are also scared. Jason Riveiro with the Latino advocacy group LULAC says Sheriff Jones has created a society of fear.
JASON RIVEIRO: I don’t think I would be generalizing the situation to say that people hang their heads low. People, either they go eat, go get their food and come back home. People are not spending because they don’t feel welcome. And they don’t feel they can go out and be safe. This is not a healthy environment for anybody.
MARGOLIS: I met Riveiro at a local taqueria in the town of Fairfield along with some small business owners like Mexican-born Lourdes Leon. She settled here 10 years ago and opened a restaurant to cater to a rapidly-growing population of Latino immigrants. They came here to work in what was a booming construction industry. Leon says if Ohio passed a law similar to Arizona’s…
LOURDES LEON: I would close the doors. I mean I would close the business.
LEON: Because Latinos are going to start moving out. They’re going to be scared to be around places like this.
MARGOLIS: Jason Riveiro says Sheriff Jones’ actions and words are criminalizing their whole community, blowing isolated incidents out of proportion.
RIVEIRO: For me to say that immigrants don’t commit crime would be a lie. I think populations all have crimes and they commit crimes. And that’s really the big problem that we have with Mr. Jones pointing out, if someone that is undocumented breaks a law or rapes someone, does that paint a picture for all that are here undocumented? No, of course not.
MARGOLIS: Riveiro and other Latinos here worry about what would happen if Sheriff Jones were given more authority. For example, right now, if somebody in Ohio is stopped for a broken tail light, they’re given a fix-it ticket. With an Arizona-type law, an officer could ask that person for their immigration papers. Latinos here are worried that police will look for any excuse to pull people over with brown skin. Sheriff Jones bristles at that.
JONES: Uhhh, Horse doo doo, basically. It’s the same thing they’ve always referred to as racism and bigotry. If I get stopped or I go into a building, I have to show proper ID. It doesn’t offend me. I’m OK with that. If I go to the bank, I have to show proper ID. If I fly a plane, I have to show proper ID. Welcome to America, this is a free society, but we do have laws here. And one of them is you have to be here legally.
MARGOLIS: Sheriff Jones says the problem is, the federal government isn’t enforcing the law.
For the World, I’m Jason Margolis, Fairfield, Ohio.
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