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Sheriff says Dayton calls itself a ‘sanctuary city,’ the city says it does not

Richard K. Jones says no local jurisdiction can enforce federal immigration law.

No Ohio cities appear on a national list of sanctuary cities compiled by a group that wants immigration restricted and Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones said he believes cities making that claim are mostly just “playing to their base.”

“A sanctuary city would be cities that refuse to report criminals to the federal government,” Jones said. “(But) I don’t know any law enforcement in this area that’s refusing to abide by the law.”

Jones said Cincinnati Council may have declared itself a sanctuary city, and he believes Dayton has also done that - although Dayton city officials deny that - but in reality they are not actually “sanctuary cities.”

Related: Cincinnati declares self sanctuary city

Jones said no local jurisdictions are allowed to enforce federal immigration law. If a police chief stands up and says he or she isn’t going to enforce immigration laws Jones’ response is, “Nor am I. We can’t.”

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“We don’t go out and arrest or detain or call ICE if we run into someone who is here illegally,” Jones said. “Because we don’t have the federal authority to do that.”

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl has emphasized that it is a civil violation to be in the country illegally, and that the federal authorities have exclusive jurisdiction over enforcement of that law.

In January Biehl rescinded a policy that generally prohibited officers from contacting federal immigration authorities for misdemeanor violations and felony-level property crimes. The city already was informing immigration authorities about suspects in more serious crimes. He said police will continue to not question victims about their immigration status because they do not want people to be afraid to come forward.

Related: Dayton police revise immigration status policy

Related: Dayton police to adjust to Trump’s immigration orders

Jones’ Butler County Jail does have special status to enforce immigration law inside the jail. He has a contract to house about 250 prisoners - about half of them held for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Six of his corrections officers are sworn ICE agents and have the authority to enforce immigration law in the jail.

He said ICE is notified when undocumented immigrants are jailed and the jail hosts video deportation hearings with federal judges.

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

Cincinnati officials could not be reached for comment.

Dayton has a policy of being welcoming to immigrants but officials have said the city is not a “sanctuary city.”

Related: Dayton mayor says refugees welcome here

Dayton touts open arms

President Donald Trump has ordered cuts in federal funding to cities claiming to be sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants.

Related: Could Trump’s action on sanctuary cities impact Dayton

Some define sanctuary cities as those with policies limiting cooperation with ICE. But the definition has tended to be somewhat vague with different people viewing it different ways.

“I think there is a lot of ground of confusion,” said Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, executive director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center.

“What the Trump Administration is trying to do is to target those cities that have used the lable ‘sanctuary cities’ but there are cities that don’t use the label that have adopted pieces of it,” said Pérez-Bustillo, who is a former advisor to the United Nations and coordinator of a project on human rights along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Related” What are sanctuary cities? Where are they?

Related: Turner: Immigration move should rest with states, not cities

He said the Trump order assumes that immigrants are more likely to be criminals, but that is a fallacy.

“The data says that it is not so,” Pérez-Bustillo said. “In fact immigrants are less likely to commit crimes and are more likely to be victims of crimes.”

The Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restricting immigration compiled a list of cities and counties have refused requests to detain people for possible deportation. The group lists about 300 sanctuary cities and counties around the country that have rejected more than 17,0000 detention requests from ICE between Jan. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015. No Ohio cities are on the list.

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