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Oberlin mulls immigrant policy initiated by Lorain County Catholic Action Commission

OBERLIN, Nov. 13, 2008 (AP): Undocumented immigrants should be able to seek help from police or fire departments without fear of being turned over to federal agents, according to a proposal being presented to the city council in this college town.

If the measure passes, Oberlin, Ohio would join about 30 other cities that prohibit local officials from assisting immigration agents. Critics say such policies undermine the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

The city's police force would not assist immigration agents unless ordered to do so, possibly by a court, City Manager Eric Norenberg said Thursday of the proposal.

``It's a resolution that would have the force of law, in effect, a policy directing staff on how to act in certain situations,'' said Norenberg, who hasn't take a position on the issue.

``Whether we have this in place or not we do want residents to feel comfortable calling the city,'' he said. ``To be able to operate without asking about immigration status, that's generally our current practice now.''

Oberlin's Human Relations Commission this week recommended that the city's council consider making the policy clear. Norenberg said the proposal initiated with the citizen group Lorain County Catholic Action Commission and may come up for a council vote Dec. 15, 2008.

Oberlin City Councilman David Ashenhurst, the council's liaison to the commission, said the proposal isn't suggesting immigrant sanctuary.

``It isn't talking about sanctuary, it's about not cooperating if we don't have to with a policy we don't think is very well worked out,'' he said. ``It is about where the federal government offers to the local government the possibility of cooperating on something that is really just not well defined.''

He said he supports the sentiment of the policy and hopes the council can work out particulars.

Council President David Sonner said he had not seen the proposal or had a chance to consider it.

``I don't know anything about the content,'' Sonner said from a National League of Cities Conference in Orlando, Fla. ``It's much too early to make any predictions about it.''

ICE raid on Casa Fiesta restaurants
Sonner said he thinks Oberlin’s interest in such a resolution or law results from the arrests of five undocumented immigrants during a July 2008 raid on a Mexican restaurant there. ICE agents arrested 58 employees across northern Ohio in raids July 23 at Casa Fiesta restaurants. The 54 men and four women arrested were from Mexico.

``We have a lot of people from other countries visiting and living here,'' Oberlin police Capt. Clifton Barnes said.

Oberlin, about 30 miles southwest of Cleveland, has about 8,200 residents. It is home to Oberlin College, a private liberal arts school with an enrollment of 2,839, of which 171 are foreign students.

Immigration status normally isn't a concern in Oberlin unless a person from another country is in a traffic accident or commits a crime, Barnes said.

``Savvy criminals may exploit such policies, believing they can seek safe haven in sanctuary cities,'' ICE spokesman Michael W. Gilhooly said from Williston, Vt. ``When that happens, there are real risks for residents' welfare, and in some cases, even national security.''

San Francisco has a sanctuary law that prohibits the use of city funds to help enforce federal immigration law or question individuals about their immigration status.

But San Francisco's policies toward undocumented immigrants have come under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that a number of juvenile offenders were shielded from deportation because of the city's sanctuary policy.

Mayor Gavin Newsom reversed the juvenile offender policy in May, but said he stood by the city's vow to shelter undocumented immigrants who otherwise follow the law from deportation.

The city council in Ann Arbor, Mich., passed a sanctuary law in 2002 and the results have been beneficial, Mayor John Hieftje said. City officials believed federal officials were harassing the city's large Muslim population, the mayor said.

On the Net: http://www.ice.gov/index.htm
Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com






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