An Ohio sheriff is promoting a "Citizens' Initiative" on the November ballot that would give state voters the right to decide whether they want a law patterned after Arizona's new statute authorizing police to arrest anyone reasonably suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, who unsuccessfully billed both the U.S. and Mexican governments for the cost of jailing criminal aliens, took the matter to the public on Friday — with the backing of state Republican Rep. Courtney Combs — after deciding that appeals made to Ohio's political leadership "won't be enough to get immigration reform on the fast track."
"Our federal government has let us down on immigration reform," Sheriff Jones said after he and Mr. Combs sent a letter to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and state legislative leaders seeking action. "I'm afraid our state legislature may not want to act on it either."
The sheriff noted that Mr. Strickland has said he plans to veto any legislation similar to Arizona's tough new immigration law.
"If the majority of voters in Ohio want it done, it's probably going to have to be their initiative to be the driving force," the sheriff said.
Sheriff Jones is not alone in seeking help with the growing problem of criminal aliens and the federal government's inability to secure the border. Officials and candidates in at least five other states — Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah — have called for legislation similar to that signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last month.
Even White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged during an April 23 briefing that Arizona's move "could naturally drive each state to creating its own immigration laws — that's because the United States at the federal level has failed to act."
Sheriff Jones has consistently argued that the federal government's failure to deal with the immigration crisis is "reason enough for states to target illegal aliens themselves."
He has called on state officials nationwide to oppose various immigration reform bills that have been debated in Congress, adding that their demise meant that the states should enact legislation to deal with what he called a "continuing illegal-immigration crisis."
Sheriff Jones acknowledges that getting his initiative on the ballot for November won't be easy, adding that "just because it's hard doesn't mean you shouldn't try."
"There are lots of legal papers to file, thousands and thousands of signatures on petitions to collect, and you have to get the word out to everyone," he said. "I also expect the effort will be highly contested by those who maybe just want to wait for the federal government to act."
Sheriff Jones was an outspoken critic during the 2008 presidential election of efforts by Congress to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. A Republican who has become known nationally for cracking down on illegal immigration in Butler County, he demanded answers from Republican presidential candidate John McCain in newspaper ads he financed with money from his re-election campaign.
The sheriff has vigorously proposed tougher immigration legislation, saying existing laws are either not strong enough or are not being enforced.
"Make no mistake about the fact that the immigration system is beyond broken," he said.
He began advocating immigration reform in 2005 when illegal immigrants started swamping the Butler County jail. He openly derided the cost of housing the inmates and targeted the employers who hired them, expanding his campaign to include the cost to taxpayers for illegal residents who use the county's schools, hospitals, courts and law enforcement.
"Just in this county alone, the cost to the taxpayers is $1 million," he said. "Add to that the cost to the citizens throughout the United States and that taxpayer burden is in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
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