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Ohio lawmakers proposing new legislation on immigration

Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Ohio

Rep. Courtney Combs, R-Ohio

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 20, 2012

With recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and Obama administration executive orders concerning immigration, two Ohio lawmakers are taking two very different legislative tracks on this hot button topic.

Democratic state senator Tom Sawyer, whose district lies in Summit and Portage counties, and Republican state representative Courtney Combs, whose Southern Ohio district lies in Butler County, are each in the process of introducing legislation which will address various aspects of the status of undocumented immigrants.

Combs’ legislation is a sweeping response to the recent mixed U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States, which struck down most of an Arizona law aimed at illegal immigrants but which also let stand one of the most controversial aspects of that law.

Sawyers’ bill, which is being co-sponsored by state senator Charleta B. Tavares, a Democrat from Columbus, is far more narrow and aims at the post-secondary education of the children of undocumented resident aliens. This bill follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision filed on June 26 in which the court refused cert to hear a challenge to the California DREAM Act (Martinez v. Regents of the University of California [10-1029]).

DREAM stands for the “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.” The original DREAM Act, introduced in the Senate in 2001, would have given temporary resident status to certain children of undocumented aliens, particularly if those children attended college or entered the military.

There have been several versions of this act introduced in Congress but, to this point, there is no national DREAM law.

However, Sawyer said about a dozen states have similar legislation including“states as diverse as Colorado, California, New York, Kansas and Texas,” among others. With California’s bill being upheld, other states, including Ohio, will be looking to introduce similar bills.

Sawyer said the Ohio legislation is not an exact copy of other DREAM acts. Called the Tuition Equity Act, Senate Bill 357 aims to make the children of undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition and financial aid at state colleges and universities. These children who want to improve themselves by attending college are in a position in which they may not be able to afford to go to college through no fault of their own.

The legislation, said Sawyer, would change state law so young people who live in Ohio and want to further their education have the opportunity to succeed regardless of their citizenship by allowing them to attend a college of their choice and pay in-state rates. It follows the language of a 1996 federal law, he said.

“This is a way to give young people who have lived in our state and who have played by the rules and obeyed the law, the same opportunity that their age peers have to go to school and pay the same price as their friends. This is definitely not a path to citizenship,” or any kind of “amnesty” program, Sawyer said.

To be eligible for the Ohio Tuition Equity Act, individuals must meet the following requirements:

• Graduated from high school or obtained a GED in Ohio

• Attended high school in Ohio for three years prior to graduation or lived in Ohio for three years prior to receiving a GED

• Register as an entering student not earlier than the fall of 2012

• Provide a state college or university with an affidavit stating he or she will file an application to become a United States citizen or permanent legal resident of the U.S.

Sawyer said that this bill comes from a lifelong interest in the two topics of education and population. The ranking member of the Senate education committee, he is a former member of the state board of education.

On the other side of the spectrum, Combs’ proposed legislation would do everything within the police power of the state to keep undocumented aliens out of the state altogether.

Combs noted that he had previously introduced a bill which closely paralleled the Arizona law but decided to withdraw that bill and wait for the Supreme Court Arizona decision.

“There wasn’t any sense in bringing this bill to the floor until the Supreme Court made its decision,” said Combs who is in the process of recruiting co-sponsors for this legislation.

Combs’ legislation would re-introduce those parts of the Arizona law which were upheld by the Supreme Court, primarily the “show me your papers” clause in which any person stopped by a police officer for any cause can be asked to prove his or her U.S. citizenship. (Tucson, Arizona Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor estimated to CNN after the decision that this would cause an extra 50,000 phone calls a year to federal officials in his city).

Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have already enacted their versions of Arizona-like laws which will likely have to be modified to conform to the Arizona decision.

Although some may see Ohio enacting such legislation as a stretch, Combs sees a strong connection between illegal alien activity at the Mexican border and concerns in Ohio.

Unlike many of his peers, Combs has actually been to the Mexican border he said. “I went to a part of the border where thousands of illegals cross over from Mexico. I saw them come right across.” Many of them, he said, carry illegal drugs--drugs that make their way right from Mexico to his constituents in southern Ohio.

“If Congress wants to change the law then let them change the law,” he said. “But right now those people are here illegally. What is it about the word ‘illegal’ that people don’t understand?”

Although it is outside his jurisdiction, Combs, who is serving his last term in the House, would like to see the Mexican border completely sealed.

“Bring the troops home from Afghanistan and station them along the border,” he said.

In contrast, Sawyer said his bill is of “much smaller dimensions.”

Both of these Ohio bills, as well as the Arizona law subject to the Supreme Court’s recent decision, and all of the other immigration legislation in the rest of the country are a variegated response to a planetary social shift, said Sawyer.

When he was a member of Congress from 1986-2003, Sawyer said that he “spent a lot of time working on broad-based demographic and educational issues.” Concomitant to that, he served on a committee that met regularly with members of the European Union to discuss various demographic issues.

He recalled that shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, he and his fellow committee members met with their EU counterparts and were asked about the riots. Sawyer was tasked with responding to that particular EU committee’s request.

When he delivered his report to the EU committee, he said he surprised them with his conclusions. They had expected to be told that the race riot was an African-American response to white economic suppression.

Instead, Sawyer said his report pointed to the fact that there were actually four distinct ethnic groups involved in the riots—African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian-American (mostly of Korean descent, he said)—each represented about equally and each angry with each other and with the general economic situation in LA.

Sawyer said the ethnic diversity of the city was a result of migration “from south to north and from east to west.”

He then went on to tell his EU counterparts that their cities were also experiencing the results of the same ethnic migrations, foreshadowing difficulties that would soon also arise in Europe.

Across the globe and in this country, Sawyer said, Caucasian majorities are slowly and inexorably becoming minorities. “This is painful for some,” said Sawyer, “but that trend has been true for at least 25 years. We have been approaching it for a long time.”

The 1992 riots, he said, along with social problems in large cities throughout the west and in the Middle East, were the result of a “tinderbox that had been brewing for a long time, just waiting for something to set it off.”

Those demographics will only continue in their current direction and the effect on the social structure of the United States will continue to be profound he said.

Sawyer said that his response to these shifting demographics and the pain that they may bring people is grounded in education, a part of which is his new bill.

“The solution is to educate people who are of a certain age (meaning still in school) who would either be captured by their worst dimensions or could be a part of the solution. Tuition inequality is a real denial of this opportunity and why we should care about this bill.”