Amid Anti-Immigration Talk, Oxford Extends Welcome to Foreigners

%E2%80%9CWelcome+Your+Neighbors%E2%80%9D+signs+are+found+in+front+lawns+of+businesses%2C+churches%2C+and+homes+throughout+Oxford+and+the+United+States.+The+movement+was+started+on+a+Facebook+post+by+Immanuel+Mennonite+Church+in+Harrisonburg%2C+Virginia.+%3Cem%3EPhoto+by+Patrick+Keck%3C%2Fem%3E

“Welcome Your Neighbors” signs are found in front lawns of businesses, churches, and homes throughout Oxford and the United States. The movement was started on a Facebook post by Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Photo by Patrick Keck

By Patrick Keck

While President Donald Trump and others describe a caravan of asylum seekers walking north to the U.S.-Mexico border as “invaders,” newcomers have long been greeted with “Welcome to Oxford” signs in Spanish, German, Turkish, Chinese and Arabic.

Seventeen languages are represented on signs and banners along High Street, which represent the top 17 languages spoken by students at Miami University, according to Enjoy Oxford, the city’s visitors’ bureau.

It’s part of an initiative put on by Enjoy Oxford that Mayor Kate Rousmaniere described as creating a more open Oxford community for all citizens.

Enjoy Oxford looks into making all new citizens and guests, including immigrants, more included and welcome, said Taylor Meredith, communications specialist.

Newcomers Find Hospitality

Meredith said Enjoy Oxford hosts quarterly hospitality meetings with all local hotels. There, she said, discussions take place on how to be culturally sensitive to all their guests.

From 2012 to 2016, nearly 8 percent of Oxford’s population was foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This figure is above Butler County’s average of 5.4 percent.

According to Rousmaniere, less than 1 percent of Oxford’s population in 2005 was Hispanic, but now over 2.4 percent are Hispanic, according to Data USA, a website that organizes multiple U.S. government data sources.

Rousmaniere said businesses throughout the city including the Oxford Lane Library, Kroger, and McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital have attempted to cater to the needs of immigrants by providing brochures and guides in multiple languages.

Starting in December, the Oxford Lane Library, in partnership with Miami University, will offer English language learner (ELL) conversational group classes to all community members.

Rebecca Smith, director of the library, said that the initiative was created by Oxford staff in response to the city’s growing Hispanic and Chinese populations.

The community responded to the family separation policy this past summer in a peaceful protest called Operation Comfort, created by a group from Hamilton.

St. Mary Catholic Church, in Oxford, hosted the event on July 1. Donations of stuffed animals and handwritten letters were received.

“We at St. Mary support all immigrants because of the belief that no person is illegal,” Becky Newlin, press secretary of St. Mary, wrote in an email. “All people are God’s children and have a right to travel and cross borders in order to obtain freedom from oppression.”

Hostile Rhetoric Bypasses Oxford

While Oxford tries to be more welcoming, the lives of immigrants in this country have become increasingly difficult due the rhetoric of Trump and other officials, such as Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

Recently, Trump has heightened his rhetoric against immigrants as a caravan of an estimated 7,000 migrants travels north from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico towards the southern border of the United States.

Trump responded to the caravan by ordering troops to the border. At the White House, Trump told the press, “We have about 5,000 — we‘ll do up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel, on top of border patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border.”

In an interview with the Axios news site released on Tuesday, Trump raised the notion issuing an executive order to end birthright citizenship, which allows children born in the country to non-citizen parents to automatically be U.S. citizens. The proposed executive order would be a direct challenge to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

José “Lalo” González, general manager of Fiesta Charra, said the Oxford community has been very welcoming to him, his family and his employees. González has worked in Oxford the past three years, since moving from Dayton.

While President Trump has proposed things such as the border wall between Mexico and the United States, González remains unafraid of such talk.

“He just likes to talk,” said González. “We make sure everyone’s papers are in check before we hire them (at the restaurant) anyways.”

Visa Limits Could Impact Miami and Ohio

Trump issued another executive order in April related to immigrants’ rights. Under the “Buy American and Hire American” order, H-1B visas would be more limited.

According to the U.S. Customs Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), H-1B visas allow “companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers” in occupations with a special form of knowledge.

Since 2005, USCIS has set the limit at 65,000 H-1B visas per year plus 20,000 visas for immigrants with “graduate degrees from a U.S. academic institution,” but research from the Pew Research Center shows that there have been around 200,000 applicants since 2016.

With Trump calling for more restrictions on H-1B visas, Miami University would be the most affected institution in the city.

The community in Oxford tries to welcome all citizens and guests, regardless of their home country, through signs posted throughout High Street. Photo by Patrick Keck

According to Claire Wagner, Miami University Director of the News and Public Information Office, 58 faculty members were working on the Oxford campus in 2017 on H-1B, SI status, and JI status visas.

In Ohio, Governor John Kasich passed an executive order in May to create the Office of Opportunities for New Americans and the New Americans Advisory Committee.

The office is composed of 12 members and looks to give immigrants “resources in their search for jobs, in their effort to improve their education and training, and in their desire to start or expand their own business,” according to Dan Bowerman, Public Information Officer of the Ohio Development Securities Agency.

Bowerman said via email that the limitation of skilled worker visas would significantly affect the growing Ohio workforce that needs more workers.

“78.3 percent of Ohio’s immigrants are of working age, between 16 and 64,” said Bowerman, which he compared to the 63.4 percent of the native-born population of that age.

Butler Sheriff Wants Raids

In June, Sheriff Jones expressed interest in having federal government immigration raids throughout Butler County, following the arrest of 114 arrests in Sandusky and Castalia, in northern Ohio.

In March 2017, Jones sent a letter to Trump urging him to send Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to Butler County.

In the letter, Jones said that he was “tired” of the crimes, drug trade, and loss of jobs which he related to the presence of illegal immigrants.

“Our citizens are at risk to their health and physical safety every day that this country allows them to be here,” Jones wrote.

However, Rousmaniere believes that the city has strived to let its citizens know that such talk does not belong in Oxford.