US & Canada

Ohio sheriff calls for Arizona-style immigration law

Sheriff Richard Jones (image: Jason Margolis)
Image caption Sheriff Jones talks about crimes committed by "illegals" and calls for a crackdown

Arizona's controversial immigration law aroused nationwide cries of protest this summer.

It also won a lot of support, and today, a growing number of copycat bills and ordinances are springing up across the US in areas not traditionally associated with immigration, from Indiana to Virginia to Ohio.

Among other provisions, the Arizona law requires police officers to question people about their immigration status during a "legal stop", if the officers have reasonable suspicion the person is in the US illegally. Also, it allows police to arrest without a warrant people who they have probable cause to believe have committed a crime for which they could be deported.

The Obama Administration successfully sued to stop some provisions of the law from being enforced.

'Horrendous crimes' cited

In Butler County, Ohio, a colourful sheriff has thrown his weight behind the effort to pass an Arizona-type law in his state.

Sheriff Richard Jones says undocumented immigrants have become a problem in his county, sucking up public funds and straining his department's resources. He says undocumented immigrants have committed "horrendous crimes".

"Just here in Butler County we had a seven-year-old girl raped by an illegal," Sheriff Jones says. "We also recently had a 64-year-old woman that was kidnapped, beat and raped by an illegal."

Sheriff Jones often refers to these two crimes to make his case against undocumented immigrants, although he concedes he has no evidence that undocumented immigrants in Butler County commit more crime than any other population.

The county, located in south-west Ohio near Cincinnati, has seen its Latino population swell in the past decade. Many Latinos came to Ohio to work in what was a booming construction industry.

A few years ago, Sheriff Jones put up billboards plastered with his giant image - arms folded across his chest - warning businesses that hiring "illegals" is against the law. Sheriff Jones also had a sign outside his jail with an arrow that read "illegal aliens here".

Sheriff Jones says he did all this to get the attention of the federal government, which he contends has not enforced the nation's immigration laws.

Meanwhile, many Latinos in the area say Sheriff Jones is scapegoating their community.

'Close the doors'

Jason Riveiro, of Latino advocacy group Lulac, says Jones has created a society of fear, that his actions and words are criminalising the whole Latino community by blowing isolated incidents out of proportion.

"For me to say that immigrants don't commit crime would be a lie," Mr Riveiro says. "Populations all have crimes and they commit crimes.

"And that's really the big problem that we have with Mr Jones. If someone who is undocumented breaks a law or rapes someone, does that paint a picture for all that are here undocumented? No, of course not."

Some local business owners, such as Mexican-born US citizen Lourdes Leon, who runs a taqueria, say that if Ohio passes an Arizona-style immigration law it will destroy their business.

Ms Leon says Latinos would be afraid to hang around her restaurant.

"I would close the doors," she says. "I would close the business."

Many Latinos in south-west Ohio agree the federal government needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But they worry that a local immigration law like Arizona's could lead to racial profiling, and that police could look for any excuse to pull over people with brown skin to inquire about their immigration status.

Sheriff Jones bristles at that suggestion.

"It's the same thing they've always referred to as racism and bigotry. If I get stopped or I go into a building, I have to show proper ID. It doesn't offend me," he says.

"Welcome to America. This is a free society but we do have laws here. And one of them is you have to be here legally."

Jason Margolis is a correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH-Boston co-production.

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