Springfield is forming an Immigration Accountability Response Team, officials announced Tuesday night, and leaders detailed other steps being taken to address concerns about the city’s rapidly growing immigrant population.
However, the second straight contentious Springfield City Commission meeting in which some residents expressed their anger toward immigrants prompted rebukes from city leaders who asked for people to be respectful in their comments.
Assistant Mayor Rob Rue announced the establishment of the Immigration Accountability Response Team to monitor issues related to immigrant employment, housing, crime and driver’s education. The group will report regularly to commission members and the public on immigration related concerns to enable leaders to be proactive in addressing concerns raised by residents.
“We all want answers quickly and need to establish something formally so we can have information to pass information along,” Rue said.
The team will consist of a group of four or five city staff members and be led by City Manager Bryan Heck.
Thousands of Haitian immigrants have come to the city in recent years. Estimates range from 5,000 to 10,000 Haitians in Springfield now.
Rue also reported city officials met with six of nine local employment agencies seeking answers after citizens alleged staffing agencies were responsible for busing immigrants into the community to exploit cheap labor.
“We know that they are a doorway for these folks to get employment. We want to make sure this is done in a safe way, that there are safe opportunities for them,” he said.
Rue confirmed that immigrants are arriving by bus and van, and said one local manufacturer is hiring immigrants with proper paperwork directly and not using a staffing agency to bolster their workforce.
Rue said he met with Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, about the increase in immigration straining city safety services and non-profit organizations. City officials also have a meeting scheduled with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to discuss concerns related to immigrants acquiring driver’s licenses while not being educated or understanding traffic laws.
Much of the public outcry has been sparked by a fatal crash involving a minivan and school bus that resulted in the death of an 11-year-old boy. Charges are pending against the unlicensed immigrant driver of the vehicle accused of crossing the center lane and causing the bus to overturn.
“I just want to promise you as a representative of this city, I will push and I will ask hard questions … I want to know the answers just like you do,” Rue said. “If there are people here that should not be here or are brought in to be abused or trafficked in any way, I want to find out.”
Those attending the meeting often spoke out of turn, engaged in outbursts of applause and challenged city officials seeking to keep order.
After one such exchange, Commissioner Krystal Phillips said, “I feel very sensitive to those who are speaking saying ‘They,’ ‘These people,’ things of that nature. I want to make sure we are being respectful and being humane as we have this conversation … and being kind to one another as human beings.”
Darla Bunker said: “This is not racist. We have a problem. It’s called lawlessness.”
Multiple speakers addressed the commission, and exchanges sometimes became partisan and heated.
Debra Simon said city leaders have created “an active state of emergency” by failing to act and asked officials to examine “how this invasion has impacted effected each agency and business in Springfield. It is your job to know these things.”
After those comments, another community member responded directly, saying: “I’m all for holding the person who caused the bus accident to justice, but that does not excuse us for bashing an entire community of people … Springfield, I’m begging you, welcome these Haitians into the community like you welcomed me and my family. They are here for the betterment of their family, just like my wife and I moved to this community for the betterment of our family, and just as many of you stay in this community for the betterment of yours.’
Springfield NAACP President Denise Williams pleaded for people to stop referring to the Haitians as “they’, ‘them’ and saying ‘send them back.’
“All of this racism going on right now has got to stop … This is a disgrace to our community. We cannot continue to be divided as we are right now,” Williams said.