James Ewinger, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), October 29, 2009
Dozens of Hispanic residents complained Wednesday that they are harassed by local police acting on behalf of federal immigration authorities.
Law enforcement agencies in Lake and Ashtabula counties deny singling out Hispanics, and say they are treating Latinos like everyone else.
Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of the Organization of Hispanic Women in Lake and Ashtabula, or HOLA, said the increased roundups have created such fear in the Latino community that people will not call police even when they are crime victims.
Ashtabula police did not respond to inquires for this story, but Ashtabula County Sheriff Billy Johnson said his deputies stop people only if they believe a law has been broken.
Johnson said his department gets state funds for special programs, including running drunken-driving checkpoints. He said even if they pull over a bus with 100 people on it, they check the IDs of everyone aboard.
David Leopold, a Cleveland lawyer specializing in immigration issues, said the Ohio attorney general’s office issued an opinion in 2007 that he thinks applies to all local law enforcement, stating that undocumented immigrants could be held, arrested or detained only if they were suspected of having committed a crime.
The Ohio attorney general’s opinion said local authorities can hold illegal immigrants–if federal authorities issue a detainer–or if the immigrants have committed a crime.
Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap said his deputies do not make so-called pretextual traffic stops, in which they have no real reason to pull someone over.
Dunlap said targeting immigrants would be futile “because if they do get deported, they’re back here in six weeks.”
Dahlberg said that the Latinos, undocumented or not, are wage earners whose taxes help subsidize the police who are not protecting them.