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.
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
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
“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.