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Butler County rep announces legislation on sanctuary cities

Taking a hard line against refugees and illegal immigrants, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and state Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, are pushing new legislation that could impose criminal and civil sanctions on city officials that declare their towns “sanctuary cities.”

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Elected officials could face criminal sanctions and civil lawsuits if an illegal immigrant kills or injures someone, according to Keller’s bill. The bill, as discussed by Mandel and Keller in a press call Monday morning, would also outlaw cities from declaring themselves sanctuaries.

The term “sanctuary city” often refers to places that does not prosecute illegal immigrants for violating federal immigration laws.

Lawmakers in Alaska, Colorado and Maine are advocating similar bills to crackdown cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws — though Keller did say the bill, when introduced laster this week, likely would not hold elected officials criminally liable.

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Mandel’s office drafted the press release and “executive summary” on what this legislation could contain.

“Right out of the box it’s misguided, it’s counter-productive, and it is potentially unconstitutional in more than one way. And it shows an alarming lack of knowledge regarding how immigration enforcement works,” said Gary Daniels, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Mandel, who announced in December that he is again running for U.S. Senate, offered as justification for the new bill crimes committed across the country by illegal immigrants and incidents of terrorism around the globe with ties to “radical Islam.”

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Immigration is a hot political flash point. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that aimed to tighten internal enforcement of U.S. immigration law, including the defunding of so-called “sanctuary cities,” that harbor illegal immigrants as well as increase internal enforcement of existing immigration law. And protests erupted nationwide after the president signed an order imposing a temporary ban on citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — entering the United States seeking refuge.

In December 2015 on the campaign trail, Trump called for a “total and complete shut down of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said Keller’s legislation sounds like something he “could get behind,” though he’ll want to read the bill once it’s introduced.

“I’m okay with that,” he said of holding elected officials liable. “Most of these people on these councils are lawyers or have attorneys that give them advice. If they vote to violate the law, they should take the punishment that goes with that.”

Late last month Jones, who supported Trump from the start of his campaign, wrote a letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine asking them to enforce the president’s executive order to defund or reduce funding for so-called sanctuary cities.

RELATED: Sheriff Jones joints Trump for defunding ‘sanctuary cities’

Mandel said in a press call that he believes sanctuary city policies “are an out of touch, misguided policy that snubs their nose at our nation’s laws and undermines the security of our communities.”

Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton all have policies that prohibit local law enforcement resources being used to take action against people based on immigration status alone. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, both Democrats, recently declared their cities “sanctuary” cities — a term that is loosely defined.

The term “sanctuary city” often refers to places that does not prosecute illegal immigrants for violating federal immigration laws.

In a prepared statement, Cranley, a Democrat, said Mandel is continuing to “lie” about the city of Cincinnati and said the proposed legislation is simpley “a straw man for his political ambitions.”

“We have not and will not violate federal laws,” Cranley said. “We are standing with refugees and disagreeing with President Trump’s executive orders, which is our First Amendment right to do. Mandel’s attempt to jail people who disagree with the President is an outrageous attack on the First Amendment.”

MORE: Butler County Sheriff’s Office wants to investigate immigration crimes

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper agrees, though he said he hasn’t seen nor heard of the proposed legislation until this news outlet contacted him.

“Without having seen it, Josh Mandel is clearly spending a lot more time running for office than doing his job,” Pepper said.

Pepper said it “just sounds bizarre” to think that an elected official could be held criminal or civilly liable for a policy decision and said “Donald Trump hasn’t thought about taking it this far.”

“We’re in a world right now where some of the most basic elements that’s made our democracy strong is going out the window,” he said. “We’re not living in a country like North Korea where political disagreements, where one-side of the argument are literally deemed a criminal.”

Pepper said the legislature has been “attacking” local governments from asserting their home rule authority – which allows local governments to establish self-governing laws that may conflict with state law – and is likely a “reason why Ohio’s economy is recovering so slowly.”

He said it is a bold step for a new legislator to take on such a bill, and Keller and Mandel should expect a lot of dissenting calls from across the country.

Keller said in researching the issue, she found there are 8,000 illegal immigrants with criminal histories living in sanctuary cities.

“A lot of the culture and a lot of what we’re seeing come in includes not only terrorism and crime but sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, child marriage, child rape prosecution. Six states have already reported rape and sexual assault. Refugees many times say this is sanctioned in their culture and religion and that they simply don’t wish to assimilate into our culture,” Keller said. “And further, the diseases. We now have 11 active tuberculosis cases in Ohio, what was once a controlled disease. It is costing $150,000 per case to treat and it takes six months to a year.”

MORE: Cincinnati mayor keeps ‘most immigrant-friendly city in America’ goal

Keller did not offer details on which cultures accept child exploitation.

“I think the solution begins and ends with the lawmakers to hold the cities accountable, even though officials can make a decision to allow these criminals back on the streets,” she said.

Middletown’s police department in committing to training officers in new policing techniques and being more involved in the community, according to police Chief Rodney Muterspaw.

Responding to questions on immigration, undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities, Muterspaw wrote Sunday on the department’s Facebook page: “We will enforce the laws that are on the books in Ohio.”

Middletown, which is not a sanctuary city, will continue to work with federal immigration agents as necessary, Muterspaw said, but that doesn’t mean officers will profile people who may be undocumented.

“Illegal immigration changes or laws isn’t going to change our belief in humanity,” Muterspaw said. “If you commit crimes we will come at you. If you don’t we won’t. Simple.”

But he said, “Unfortunately, we are seeing people that are here legally go through constant ‘proof of citizenship’ questions every time they encounter law enforcement. We have to adjust and adapt to change.”

The police department will be sending three officers to the RITE (Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement) Academy. The training offers more than information about race, he said, noting that officers and dispatchers encounter different cultures, classes and religions.

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