Commissioners hear critics of immigrant welcome plan

Proposal would offer ID cards to all regardless of status.

Three Cleveland-area residents who said they’ve been active in immigration issues in recent years spoke at the meeting, urging commissioners to vote down the Welcome plan.

Arzella Melnyk of Kirtland argued against proposed city ID cards for residents who don’t qualify for other forms of ID, and John Muzik of Painesville said Dayton shouldn’t choose to ignore immigration law while enforcing other laws.

Julie Aldridge of Portage County pointed to passages in federal immigration law that make it illegal to “encourage or induce an alien to ... reside in the United States,” which she said the Welcome Dayton Plan does. All three praised immigrants with legal status, but criticized the city for reaching out to all immigrants regardless of status.

Riordan lashed out at the speakers. “Everybody who turns a discussion about immigrants to illegal immigrants, I just find it heinous, I find it despicable,” Riordan said. “Let’s talk about the good people, the refugees who are coming over, had horrible suffering and want to create a new life and feel this is their country. We all came from someplace else, and I think we all need to remember that.”

Tom Wahlrab, director of Dayton’s Human Relations Council and one of the authors of Welcome Dayton, confirmed the plan does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants in its recommendations.

City Commission is expected to vote on Welcome Dayton on Oct. 5. At last week’s meeting, all nine speakers who commented on the plan were in favor of it, including representatives of Catholic Social Services and other aid groups.

Commissioner Dean Lovelace said he supported Riordan’s comments. Asked about the plan in light of recent city financial cuts like closing a teen center or eliminating a senior property tax credit, Commissioner Nan Whaley pointed out the plan doesn’t call for any financial commitment from the city.

“I’ve gotten an equal number of city residents saying, this is great, thank you, and people questioning the plan,” Whaley said. “We’re recognizing that we’ve had incredible population loss over the past 40 years and that we’re trying to redefine what an open city looks like. ... We’re trying to pay attention to all people who live in the city of Dayton.”

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