City code now prohibits Columbus employees, including police officers, from arresting or denying someone services based only on their immigration status.
Columbus City Council on June 5 approved legislation that bans the "denial of city services based upon immigration status, solicitation of information about immigration status, use of city resources for the sole purpose of detecting or apprehending an individual based upon suspected immigration status and investigating a person's immigration status."
The code now reflects an executive order Mayor Andrew J. Ginther issued earlier this year to establish the policies.
City Council President Zach Klein, who is running for city attorney as a Demorcrat this fall, said those services include trash pickup, 911 calls, snowplowing and medical treatment, which in certain circumstances is provided at no charge.
The issue has caught the attention of Don Kline, a Republican also running for city attorney this fall.
Klein and Kline are vying to replace Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., who is not seeking re-election.
Kline said the law is an example of public officials trying to play both sides in a controversial issue.
He said City Council's action all but designates Columbus as a sanctuary city without using that terminology.
"We want to be a sanctuary city, but we don't want to because we don't want to lose our federal funding," Kline said.
His comment was in reference to President Donald Trump's threat to withhold federal funds from communities that have declared themselves sanctuary cities.
"I stopped thinking about the terminology of what this was called a long time ago," Klein said.
The touchstone of the issue, Klein said, is law enforcement.
The new law codifies what is expected from police, he said. That means the law cannot be ignored unless it is rescinded, he said.
"Nothing in the ordinance excuses violations of state of Ohio law and city of Columbus law, which are what our officers are required to (uphold)," Klein said.
The law should give comfort to some victims who are afraid to come forward to report a crime because of their immigration status, Klein said.
The situation gets murkier when factoring in federal immigration law: Section 262 of the Immigration and Nationality Act mandates that almost all foreign nationals in the United States must be registered with the proper government agency.
"Every alien, 18 years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him ... " the law states. "Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than 30 days, or both."
Klein said that is an issue for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
"We do not arrest immigration offenses," Klein said. "It is not our job. It's not what the city does."
On the subject of health services, Klein said, it would be cruel to withhold medical care for those who need it, and providing that care could stop a serious disease outbreak from occurring.
"I think it would be short-sighted to turn away somebody who was sick," he said.
Klein said refugees and immigrants play a vital role in the local economy, although critics cite studies that indicate illegal immigrants cost states and municipalities more than they contribute.