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La Conexión helps keep Immigration Reform at forefront

By La Prensa Staff

Wood County-based La Conexión and the Northwest Ohio Immigrant Rights Network joined forces to keep immigration reform at the forefront of the political agenda by hosting a Zoom presentation on April 22, 2021 with a diverse panel of advocates sharing their experience and expertise.

Since the start of the Biden administration, several immigration reform bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill. Those proposals have yet to be considered by the U.S. Senate. The fear among many is a patchwork of immigration laws to come instead of the comprehensive immigration reform supporters seek to solve the multi-faceted problems facing undocumented immigrants, DREAMers, migrant farmworkers, and others.

The virtual educational event delved into the vast differences in the approach to immigration by the Obama and Trump administrations along with the lessons learned. Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl spoke of his evolution in law enforcement policies when interacting with limited English proficiency individuals. Biehl stated reforms became clear after looking at jail data when he became that community’s top cop in 2007.

“I had no idea that many arrests had occurred the year before I arrived,” he said. “There was a 20 percent increase in arrests of Hispanic and Latino community members between 2006 and 2007. But the percentage of deportations skyrocketed—nine percent in 2006 and by 2007, 57 percent.”

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl

Beatriz Maya, Director of La Conexión

Chief Biehl emphasized the Dayton police data over the past 15 years directly reflected policies of past presidential administrations. By 2012, he instituted big changes in how Dayton police handled traffic stops (not asking immigration status) and deportations after arrests (more specific and requiring approval from a senior police commander). Instead, law enforcement sought to build partnerships with the local immigrant and refugee communities and their supporters.

Chief Biehl became an active member of the Welcome Dayton initiative and that region’s Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force. He even testified before Congress in opposition to a House resolution to punish so-called “sanctuary cities” for their approach to immigration.

“We’ve worked now for almost 13 years, navigating through these various policies and changes in practices to create a better relationship, more trusting relationship, more effective relationship in public safety,” said Chief Biehl. “We did this in the absence of any significant federal immigration policy reform. I’m glad I didn’t wait for the federal government to figure it out. I’d still be waiting.”

Dayton’s police chief stated he has been “inspired” by the passion of the faith-based community and business leaders on the human rights, moral and economic aspects of immigration reform.

“There is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. It is not a truly partisan issue,” he said, citing a number of conservative Republicans among those local leaders.

Karla Mendoza, a DACA recipient and local immigration advocate, related her personal story of the double discrimination she has faced as an immigrant from Perú and a black woman. Her parents were pastors—her father a chemical engineer and her mother a teacher—in her native country. But the two of them had to become housekeepers once they arrived in the U.S. in 2000 to escape the corruption of Perú as undocumented immigrants.


Ms. Mendoza described herself as “the model immigrant,” graduating Toledo Early College HS with two years of college credits. But that’s when her immigration status caught up with her.


“Everybody is applying to go to their dream schools and I didn’t know how to tell anyone why I couldn’t go to a college, why I couldn’t drive, why I couldn’t get a job,” she recalled. “It was like this perpetual hiding, always. I also was dealing with the anti-blackness of the Latinx community while trying to assimilate into a culture that didn’t want me. I never fit, so I spent most of my formative years hiding. I didn’t know what else to do.”


Her situation changed in 2012 when then-President Obama issued an executive order giving DREAMers temporary relief from deportation proceedings and the ability to apply for work authorization. Yet in 2016, her mother had to return to Peru to care for her grandmother, but because of her immigration status, cannot return to the U.S. As a result, Ms. Mendoza has not seen her mother in five years and her grandmother in two decades.


“Seeing family separation, even as an adult, is probably the worst thing I’ve ever experienced,” she said, noting her mental health has suffered since childhood. “We have to do better, not just for the economic reasons, but for the dignity of immigrants, for the dignity of farm workers.”

“I think the humanity of the individual should come first,” echoed Eddie Taveras, New York State immigration director for FWD.us, a national organization instrumental in the development of some of the recently introduced immigration bills.

“When we’re forming this immigration from top down, we have to start thinking about what is the individual and family-centered policy that are really going to put us as a society and as a country forward. I don’t think we’ve answered that question yet. Until we start there, I don’t think we can move forward with any policy, whether it’s on the criminal justice side or the economic side—because people need to be put first.”

Dayton’s police chief blamed the toxic political situation in Washington D.C. as the chief reason for a lack of movement on immigration reform in the past 15 years. He stated “the rancor and divisiveness” there will be a challenge to overcome. He predicted it would take a grass-roots effort to change immigration policy at the national level.

“It will take a movement of the communities of this country to be advocating and holding those in elected office accountable in order for change to happen,” said Chief Biehl.

But Tavares emphasized that grass-roots effort would have to hold Congress accountable and not allow individual members “to abdicate their responsibility” for representing the will of the people by blaming the toxic political climate and using it as an excuse to do nothing meaningful.

Meeting co-hosts Beatriz Maya, Director of La Conexión and Jennifer Vásquez of the NW Ohio Immigrant Rights Network urged participants to continue educating themselves and networking while grass-roots organizations like theirs continue to advocate with legislators to “change hearts and minds” about the current immigration narrative. Bowling Green State University’s Latin American and Latino/a/x Studies Cluster assisted with the virtual panel discussion.





Copyright © 1989 to 2021 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/27/21 20:04:57 -0700.





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