Are civil rights a matter of policy or of law?
Kathy Flora, a Cleveland Heights resident and immigration activist, shared these stories at the Nov. 1 meeting of Cleveland Heights City Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee:
“Beatriz did not give a wide enough berth to a patrol car that was stopping someone else. She was . . . rapidly deported, leaving behind her grieving husband and four children. She was dumped over the Mexican border . . . in a notoriously dangerous city that preys on these vulnerable United States throwaways. She was robbed twice.
“Mario’s neighbors were terrorized when ICE was on the block to arrest him from his home. He was on dialysis, dying from kidney failure. His crime? A misdemeanor committed in all the way back in 1994 . . .
“Narciso was still being treated for head injuries after being rear-ended in a traffic accident, when he was deported and dumped [over] the border in the middle of the night. He was kidnapped almost immediately . . . His life was threatened until his family here paid a ransom.
“On and on and on it goes. It is impossible to keep up.”
These are just three stories of undocumented immigrants apprehended, held and deported without due process in Northeast Ohio. Similar incidents occur daily throughout the United States. Acting without warrants or hearings, federal agents wrench people from their families, jobs and communities, and deport them into situations where their safety and even their lives are at risk. Many deportees have been law-abiding U.S. residents for years or even decades, with children born in this country.
These practices are unjust, inhumane and unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights refers not to citizens, or immigrants with green cards or other documentation, but to people. It doesn’t matter who you are or how you got here; you are entitled to constitutional protection.
Under the Fourth Amendment, undocumented immigrants have rights to due process, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and freedom from discrimination based on race, ethnicity and national origin. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) routinely violate these rights. Many of those arrested without warrants are deported without hearings. Of those who do go through immigration court proceedings, more than half have no legal representation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Many undocumented immigrants come into contact with local or state police through traffic stops. They are questioned about their immigration status, even if it is irrelevant to the reason they were stopped, then arrested and turned over to ICE.
Another way local officials are complicit with an unjust system is through ICE detainers. When someone is in jail on a charge unrelated to their immigration status, ICE issues a request that the police hold them for an additional 48 hours, allowing further time to investigate them. An ICE detainer does not have the legitimacy of a judge-issued warrant, however, local officials often cooperate.
No such incidents have occurred in Cleveland Heights or University Heights, but as the federal program of mass deportation continues, local officials will be under increased pressure to participate.
Cleveland Heights City Council Member Kahlil Seren has introduced legislation that would help prevent abuses like those above from occurring in Cleveland Heights. Under this ordinance, police and other city employees could not:
- Arrest or hold anyone solely on the basis of a request from ICE or CBP, without a warrant from a judge.
- Ask about an individual’s immigration status, or release that information to ICE or CBP, “unless for a law enforcement purpose other than enforcement of a civil immigration law.”
- Take action against anyone based on their perceived race, national origin, religion, language or immigration status.
If passed, these provisions would become part of the city’s legal code. The ordinance would not violate state or federal laws.
It is not clear how many city council members support the legislation, but City Manager Tanisha Briley and Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg have weighed in against it. They would prefer to develop a “flexible” internal policy, which would set standards but not be written into law. In other words, they want the discretion to choose when and whether to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants.
In a democracy, should the protection of civil rights be a matter of discretion or should it have the force of law?
We encourage readers to let city council and the city manager know their thoughts about this by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carla Rautenberg and Deborah Van Kleef
Carla Rautenberg is an activist and a lifelong Cleveland Heights resident. Deborah Van Kleef is a musician and writer, who has lived in Cleveland Heights for most of her life. Contact them at email@example.com.