COLUMBUS -- Democratic state lawmakers have proposed making Ohio a "sanctuary state," providing protections to undocumented immigrants.
Reps. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) and Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) said the state should be welcoming of immigrants.
"We want you here, we need you here because you are helping us to grow as a community and as one Ohio," Howse said.
The legislation, announced Tuesday during a morning press conference at the Statehouse, came in response to law changes proposed a day earlier by Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel and Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) that would prohibit Ohio communities from adopting sanctuary status, with potential criminal and civil penalties for mayors, city councils and other elected officials in cities that move forward with the designation if illegal immigrants commit crimes.
The phrase "sanctuary cities" generally refers to communities that institute policies to protect immigrants in the country illegally from being deported. In Ohio, Cincinnati recently moved to adopt the designation.
The issue has been in the national spotlight as of late, with President Donald Trump recently signing an executive order calling for the identification of all such sanctuary communities nationwide, along with the regular publication of a list of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Proponents of barring sanctuary cities have voiced concern that terrorists or other immigrants bent on criminal activities could use the status to avoid the legal consequences of their actions, including deportation.
But Ramos called the bill offered by Mandel and Keller "completely untenable."
"Fining elected officials for crimes committed in their communities is beyond ridiculous," he said. "It's clearly unenforceable and it's likely unconstitutional. We in the United States of America don't arrest people and lock people up for crimes that they didn't commit themselves. That's what this legislation proposes to do."
Ramos also countered assertions that sanctuary city policies promote criminal activity, and he said Ohio's officers "have better things to do" than handle immigration enforcement for federal agencies.
"When police are working on immigration, local and state police, they are not solving crime," Ramos said. "They are not preventing the next theft. They are not working on the heroin crisis. They are not protecting the population from the next violent crime. They are checking papers."
Howse said the legislation she and Ramos are proposing would forbid criminal and civil penalties against officials in communities that adopt sanctuary status.
"We don't want to penalize communities for doing what they see fit," she said. " It is saying we in Ohio here are a welcoming community, and for those communities where they are really looking into having newcomers come into their community, you will not be punished."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.