House bill on immigrants could cost Dayton money

The city of Dayton would be ineligible for certain federal law enforcement grants if a bill passed Thursday by the U.S. House becomes law.

The vote, targeting cities that limit enforcement of federal immigration laws, came hours after Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the issue, calling such legislation “off the mark.”

“I do not consider Dayton a ‘sanctuary city,’ ” Biehl wrote in his prepared testimony. “Yet some of the current federal legislative proposals would include Dayton in their one-size-fits-all solution.

“I am concerned that a poorly conceived response of compelling states and localities to carry out certain immigration policies will undermine trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

Biehl was one of several people to testify before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, three weeks after an undocumented immigrant with a long criminal record killed Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco.

That slaying caused outrage because San Francisco officials had released the man without notifying federal immigration authorities who wanted to regain custody of Francisco Sanchez. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced House Resolution 3009 — the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act — in response.

“There are criminals motivated by malice and a conscious disregard for the lives of others, and there are cities more interested in providing a sanctuary for those criminals than they are in providing a sanctuary for their law-abiding citizens,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C, just before the bill passed largely along party lines. “This is more than an academic discussion. … It is quite literally life and death.”

Dayton-area law enforcement officials have said a case like San Francisco’s would be unlikely here, because people arrested by Dayton Police are taken to the Montgomery County Jail, where Sheriff Phil Plummer cooperates with any requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

City of Dayton officials couldn’t immediately say how much their police department receives in the types of grants that would be affected by the bill, but Biehl gave one big example. He said Dayton was approved for a six-year, $5.7 million federal COPS grant in 2009, paying for much of the expense to hire and keep 21 police officers. The grant expired this summer.

“Five-point-seven million dollars is a pretty big stick,” Biehl said.

But even if the bill passes the Senate, it likely would be vetoed by President Barack Obama. The Obama administration released a statement saying they strongly oppose H.R. 3009.

Biehl said he was asked to testify by the White House’s law enforcement immigration task force, on which he serves. He said the current bill overreaches and cited several national police organizations that oppose broadly requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law.

He also pointed to a 2007 Ohio Attorney General opinion stating that local police don’t have the authority to enforce civil immigration violations.

Biehl’s detailed testimony Thursday criticized Congress’ failure to pass broad immigration legislation and stated that Dayton’s policies to improve relationships with immigrant communities coincided with crime declines in the city. Biehl called immigration enforcement a federal responsibility, but also supported the federal PEP immigration initiative that focuses enforcement on those who have been convicted of moderate to serious crimes.

“What everyone wants is a safe community,” Biehl wrote. “We should not punish localities that are trying to promote trust in their communities. Collaboration with federal immigration enforcement officials should exist for the most serious and violent criminals” but should be tailored so it doesn’t undermine local community policing, Biehl said.

House Resolution 3009 targets any city that “prohibits state or local law enforcement officials from gathering information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Dayton would fit that definition. Dayton Police policy prohibits officers from asking the immigration status of a crime victim or witness, and says ICE “shall not be contacted for assistance” in cases such as felony property crimes or misdemeanors without approval from a division commander.

But Biehl said Dayton is not like cities that fully refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. He said DPD has multiple Department of Homeland Security-certified officers, and Dayton Police worked directly with ICE on a recent case involving the exploitation of undocumented workers.

DPD policy directs officers to contact ICE if a person believed to be in the country illegally is a suspect in a violent felony, a drug trafficking felony, or poses a threat to national security.

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