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Toledo City Council Passes Revised Immigration Resolution

Reprinted with permission from El Tiempo
Caution
Photo by MENE TEKEL

A federal judge blocked parts of Arizona’s controversial immigration law last week, but Toledo City Council is still debating the issue in the form of a non-binding resolution—even after Mayor Mike Bell broke a tie vote to send the resolution to defeat. Instead, another councilman took up the cause, then redrafted and reintroduced a resolution Tuesday night.

The wording is different but the intent still the same—that Toledo City Council joins other communities in calling on Congress and President Obama to pass some type of comprehensive immigration reform. This version of the resolution also calls on the governor and Ohio General Assembly to keep in mind “the core values” of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights so both will reject any attempts to pass measures similar to Arizona’s SB 1070.

Councilman Mike Collins introduced the latest version, after voting against the initial resolution co-sponsored by Democratic council colleagues Adam Martinez and Joe McNamara. Collins stated he “gave some modifications” to Martinez to include similar language a few weeks ago that did not appear in the final version. Collins had stated his no vote was because the Martinez version “was too case specific toward Arizona,” reflected a situation “thousands of miles away,” and had nothing to do with the governance of Toledo.

The latest version passed city council Tuesday afternoon by a 10-2 vote, without any debate or discussion. Collins was one of four council members to change their vote, joined by Republican colleague George Sarantou and Democrats Wilma Brown and Michael Ashford.

Councilman Martinez’s vote of “absolute yes” drew laughter from the packed audience and the vote itself drew applause from the crowd, which included influential Latino leaders such as Margarita De Leon and former city council president Louis Escobar. Collins refused to call his sudden sponsorship of the revised resolution a “change of heart.” Rather, he called it a reflection of his commitment to human rights and social justice.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with it, because I remember the words of Nimoller and they are immortal with me and it’s found in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,” said Collins.

That quote starts with “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist,” which then makes similar references to trade unionists and Jews. The famous quote ends: “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” 

The independent South Toledo councilman then received a phone call last week from Baldemar Velasquez, the founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee—one of the major proponents of the original immigration resolution. During the conversation, Collins related the modifications he wanted to make to the resolution and Velasquez asked to see the changes. A flurry of emails back and forth followed, as the two men hashed out a new version.

“I don’t believe this is a specific statement against Arizona,” Collins said. “I believe it’s using SB 1070—the Arizona legislation—as a foundation to say ‘Let us not make the same mistakes.’”

Because a federal judge stated there are Constitutional problems with the Arizona immigration law, Collins believes the new resolution acts accordingly—by sending a warning to state leaders to prevent a similar mistake. The same message is sent to federal elected officials to come up with what Collins terms “workable immigration reform.” However, the new Toledo resolution does not spell out what form that should take.

“I don’t believe amnesty is the answer, frankly,” said Collins, which is what Velasquez has

been advocating on a national stage. “I believe there is a legal path to citizenship and it is extremely important. But there are those who come to the U.S. for the purposes of employment and not want the legal path to become a naturalized citizen.”

Collins wants to see those immigrants be allowed to have work visas so they can return home, similar to how it’s handled in Europe. For example, he said, Polish workers go to Ireland for temporary employment, but have no intention of becoming Irish citizens. Many of Northwest Ohio’s migrant farm workers also are only here a short time before returning to Mexico.

“I see nothing wrong with that, as long as there’s documentation that they’re here,” Collins said. “It’s not just the Mexican illegals we’re talking about. They’d like to make it sound that way, because it’s the Arizona issue. It’s far more entrenched than that.”

Collins pointed out Asians who have come to Ohio to work in various industries. He used Koreans working at spas as an example.

“The women who are here are in involuntary servitude, more or less,” he said.

Collins also pointed out the plight of undocumented migrant workers employed at mega-dairy farms in central Ohio, stating that they “live in squalor conditions that the Department of Agriculture wouldn’t even allow pigs to be living in the environment they live in.” His family did internships in that industry, relating horror stories to him.

“What they witnessed, what they saw was nothing short of slavery,” Collins said.

The first-term at-large councilman stated the revised resolution “is much more than a symbolic stand” to him, but it’s “not a change of heart,” either. His version, in his estimation, broadens the statement being made—to both Ohio’s elected leaders and the federal government.

“This is very important to me. Civil rights has always been an important issue to me,” Collins said. “It’s been that way my whole life.”

Collins even fired off a memo to his council colleagues just before he introduced the resolution, hoping to explain the complexities behind his thinking. The councilman stated he had already received a flurry of criticism “from constituents who are upset with me over it.” The main thrust of that criticism is that council is wasting time on such an issue when Toledo has its own problems, such as double-digit unemployment.

Collins readily acknowledges those other issues, but is trying to help them understand where he’s coming from.

“A person in an elected position also has a moral responsibility, as a result of the oath of office that he or she took, to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Collins said. “If this is a statement that is consistent with my belief to uphold and defend the Constitution, then I’m doing my job.”

But the resolution is receiving criticism from his council colleagues. After reading the resolution, Republican councilman Tom Waniewski stated it “lacks the numbers” to back up the claims that human trafficking and “unscrupulous business practices” are even a problem in Northwest Ohio.

 

“Of course I oppose human trafficking, but for crying out loud, give me the stats,” he said. “Let’s tackle that on a local level. This (resolution) is still very much state and national level. In my opinion, we need to be working on city issues.”

Waniewski also stated he is opposed to illegal immigration, but he wants to see specifically what his council colleagues want the Ohio and federal governments to do about the issue. In other words, he wants to see it spelled out in a stronger stance.

“If we’re going to do this, give me the statistics, give me the who, what, when, where, and how,” said Waniewski, whose council district covers West Toledo. “I still don’t see this.”

The councilman, who’s running for a state senate seat, criticized the resolution as so poorly written and poorly worded that it “would get tossed out of an English or journalism class.”

“I don’t want to deal with that. We’re signing ourselves on a document and this is not a good business document to me,” he said with obvious frustration. “Unfortunately, I get relegated to a no vote and then everybody points to Tom as being against something and no one understands immigration better because of my grandparents coming here from Poland. I don’t know why we’re even dealing with this anymore.”

Photo by Mene Tekel