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Columbus Council Considers Immigration Protections, But It's No "Sanctuary City"

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus on a "Day Without Immigrants" strike in February 2017.
Esther Honig
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse in February for a "Day Without Immigrants" strike.

An executive order from Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther back in January condemned arresting or denying public services to people based on immigration status. On Thursday, Columbus City Council held a hearing to consider turning that order into law.

City Council president Zach Klein announced the proposed ordinance at the public meeting. It would codify Ginther's ordinance issued amid protests against President Trump's refugee ban and immigration freeze - both of which were later blocked by courts.

According to Council member Elizabeth Brown, the measure would allow City Council to develop measures that further integrate immigrants and refugees into society.

“It will insure that we comply with a lot of the tenets of being a sanctuary city,” Brown says. “It does not use that verbiage anywhere in the order or the codification.”

Sanctuary cities, which have been condemned by the Justice Department and Trump administration,traditionally ban immigration raids and refuse to supply immigration status information to Immigration Customs and Enforcement. Columbus' proposal would not go that far.

"We will not arrest, detain or investigate anyone for immigration violations unless a warrant or criminal violation was observed," Ginther said in his January announcement. "No city employee or city office may be used for the sole purpose of detecting or apprehending people based on immigration status unless it is in response to a court order."

However, according to Columbus Police and the county sheriff's office, people before this measure would not have been apprehended solely on their immigration status.

If a person who is already arrested is suspected of being undocumented, then the sheriff's office will bring people to the county jail and supply that information to ICE. City Council has no jurisdiction to regulate the county jail.

City Council's bill would enter the city into a contract with Ohio State to study service gaps in immigrant and refugee communities.

“We talked about in the hearing today the fact that these policies that we put in place will outlive anyone of us in terms of their productive impact on our economy and growth in Columbus," Brown says.

The proposed ordinance is expected to be voted on soon.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.