The Ohio House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee heard sponsor testimony this week from an important bill regarding immigration. The bill’s primary sponsors – Representatives Courtney Combs of Butler County and Matt Lynch of Geauga County – both testified. They also fielded questions from members of the committee. I’ve summarized the hearing below for your information.
First, a reminder: House Bill 580 would require police officers to investigate the immigration status of a detainee if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual’s presence in the United States is unauthorized. The bill prohibits the officer from considering “race, color or national origin” in determining reasonable suspicion. If the individual in question presents valid state or federal identification, or papers from a foreign government granting lawful presence in the United States, he or she would be presumed under the legislation to be lawfully present. Finally, the legislation requires each detention facility in the State to designate an official tasked with determining the immigration status of each individual there held before he or she is released.
Representative Combs began testimony by anticipating arguments against the legislation. He said it was “ironic” that “supporters of illegal immigration” would question the bill’s legality on grounds that it prompts profiling – which is itself illegal. Representative Lynch quoted numbers detailing the cost to Ohio taxpayers of undocumented immigrants in the state. He said that Ohio has an estimated undocumented immigrant population of 110,000, and that the cost to Ohio taxpayers is $879 million annually. He said those expenses come from the education, law enforcement, and medical care costs – among others – for undocumented Ohioans. He noted that the largest expense was in educating the undocumented children and the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. He acknowledged that undocumented immigrants in Ohio do pay some taxes – he quoted about $18.8 million annually – but said that that revenue would be much higher if the jobs held by undocumented Ohioans were filled by American citizens. Representative Lynch closed by imploring the Committee to protect the jobs of Ohio citizens.
Representative Robert Hagan began questions by asking if the sponsors had heard of the offense of “D.W.B. – driving while black or brown”. He said the bill asks police officers to accuse people that don’t look like them of being “illegal”. He said that it is impractical to put the burden of determining reasonable suspicion on police officers. He also said that he is a supporter of immigrants – not necessarily illegal immigration. He noted that immigrants come to Ohio for an opportunity for a better life, and noted that his own heritage – and that of everyone in the room – included immigrants.
Representative Combs responded that the sponsors, too, were in favor of immigration – just not illegal immigration. He said he would get on the “bandwagon” to fundamentally change federal immigration law, but in the absence of federal action he believes current immigration laws must be enforced. He said that he indeed had immigrant ancestors, but said that his ancestors immigrated legally and did not bring in “contraband”. He said that there is a sophisticated drug trafficking network from Mexico to Ohio and noted that undocumented immigrants are frequently the traffickers of these drugs. Finally, he purported to assuage fears of profiling by saying that profiling today is not the problem that it was “20 years ago”, and that we should err on the side of the police officers, who frequently give people “breaks”.
Representative Ross McGregor asked how – without considering race, color or national origin – the sponsors would define reasonable suspicion. Representative Combs answered that they made a conscious effort to mirror Arizona and U.S. Supreme Court – sanctioned law. He said that police officers would have the right to ask if a detainee is a citizen, and noted that in Arizona, law enforcement set up check points to accomplish the same goals. Representative McGregor then asked if the basis for calculating reasonable suspicion would be considered on an individual basis, and Representative Combs answered that it would be, and that training for that was “already in place”. Representative Lynch noted that the investigation would only come into play when two threshold issues are met. He noted that the bill requires an otherwise-lawful stop, and the investigation would only commence if the individual could not furnish valid identification that the bill outlines. He said that if a driver were pulled over, did not speak English, and had seven other people – each of whom had luggage – in his car, those facts would satisfy “reasonable suspicion” under his legislation. Finally, Representative McGregor asked whether any law enforcement agencies around the State supported the bill, and Representative Combs noted that aside from Butler County Sherriff Richard K. Jones, none had yet lent their support to the bill.
Finally, Representative Bill Patmon assured the sponsors that profiling was still very much an issue for racial minorities. He also said that in his view this legislation shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. He noted that the onus is on the detainee to furnish documents proving their authorized presence in the United States – “guilty until proven innocent”. He also asked the sponsors to consider which group is more at fault for the current immigration situation – undocumented immigrants or their unscrupulous employers. Last, Chairman Rex Damschroder asked the sponsors to submit the source for their cost analyses to members of the committee.
I’ve attached to this email a copy of Representative Lynch’s written sponsor testimony. I have attempted to acquire the same from Representative Combs’s office but have as yet been unsuccessful. I’ve also included an attachment with the hearing’s minutes, and a link to the report from which Representative Lynch generated his data on the cost of illegal immigration to Ohio taxpayers. The report was generated by the Federation for American Immigration Reform – commonly known as FAIR – which it must be noted is monitored as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I will continue to closely monitor the legislation as it moves through the General Assembly. The next step would be further testimony, in which members of the public and interested parties would have the opportunity to testify before the Committee. It is not yet certain that the bill will get another hearing – it will depend on the House leadership’s commitment to advancing this bill. Should it get another hearing, I will alert you as soon as I am able, but notice will still be short. Hispanics were well-represented at Wednesday’s hearing, and I encourage you to stay plugged into the process throughout this legislative session.
If you would like help in contacting the committee chair, the bill’s sponsors or your own elected representative please contact me. I am also happy to help and guide you in drafting and submitting testimony. Please let me know if you have questions, and I thank you for your attention to this matter.
FAIR Report on Costs: http://www.fairus.org/DocServer/Ohio_CostStudy_2012.pdf
Nolan J. Stevens, J.D.
Public Policy Officer
Ohio Latino Affairs
Riffe Center – 18th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215
tel ~ 614-466-8333
fax ~ 614-995-0896
web ~ http://ochla.ohio.gov