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Published: 5/25/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Cruelty as lawmaking

Instead of legislating, lawmakers in Columbus posture on illegal immigration

Ohio has big practical problems its state government needs to address. It has fiscal and budget issues. Its roads and bridges require major attention. The state’s school funding system must be rethought. Its Medicaid program of low-income health insurance ought to expand.

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But too many members of the General Assembly, much like their counterparts in Congress, seem to prefer posturing, and even punishing, to legislating. At times, it seems they would rather do anything other than pass laws that attack Ohio’s real problems or try to improve Ohioans’ lives.

The most recent example is a Republican member of the state House who has introduced a bill that would deny Ohio driver’s licenses to immigrants who have been granted temporary amnesty by the federal government.

Last year, President Obama issued an executive order that gives two-year amnesty to young people who illegally immigrated to the United States with their parents before the age of 16. The program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

It does not, and cannot, provide citizenship or resident status. DACA is supposed to be a temporary fix until Congress enacts permanent and comprehensive immigration reform.

The President was forced to act because Congress would not. He wanted young people who are in this country illegally through no fault of their own to be able to come out of the shadows and work. The effort is necessary and humane.

After DACA took effect, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles declared that it would issue temporary licenses to people covered by the initiative. The bureau reiterated its policy in March, after complaints emerged that some DACA immigrants were being denied licenses. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, agreed with the bureau.

The proposed bill would reverse state policy, making it difficult or impossible for DACA immigrants to get official identification, to drive legally, and to work. It would take food off the table of immigrants who were raised in this country and want to contribute to it.

The punitive bill has no purpose other than cruelty. It is directed at people who have broken no law, have hurt no one, and want to play by the rules — and at workers who want to do jobs that Americans often do not want to do.

There is no point to this measure, other than a political appeal to a mean and angry constituency with no interest in government. Some Columbus observers say the bill will probably not make it to the House floor and certainly will not pass. Others caution against underestimating the power of nativism in the Statehouse.

Either way, this is malfeasance and abdication of duty. But this is an era when voters do not pick their lawmakers; lawmakers pick voters. And some lawmakers seek to punish people for being poor.



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