By ONIWASU Taiwo AKINLAMI
Community Refugee Immigration Services (CRIS), an affiliate of Church World Service (CWS), an independent non-profit organization that serves the refugee and immigrant populations in Central Ohio, held community dialogue on Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Karl Road. The focus of the dialogue, themed, ‘Building Community Bridges’ was ‘to discuss how to build bridges between local law enforcement and refugee and immigrants and neighbors.’
The community dialogue was in furtherance to the mission of CRIS ‘to help refugees and immigrants reach safety and stability, sustain self-sufficiency, and achieve successful integration into the Central Ohio community.’
The dialogue, which kicked off at about 3.30PM and ended about 6.00PM with light refreshment served to the participants was well attended by immigrants from diverse communities in the city of Columbus. Deliberations were facilitated by Blaise Baraka, Community Mobilization Officer with Church World Service((CWS) and was addressed by two exceptionally experienced police officers from the Columbus Division of Police, whose culminative experience as police officers is over 30 years.
Officers Donald Fletcher and Valentine Wayne volunteered and were invited to address the dialogue as part of their pet project to create awareness on the expectations of the law and its enforcement for refugees and new immigrants in the city of Columbus.
Most of the participants, who spoke through interpreters expressed concerns about traffic laws and regulations in the city of Columbus. Their questions range from whether a resident of the city could drive with an international driver’s license to whether a person could drive with a Temporary Permit without a licensed driver in the car.
Participants were also interested in knowing how best to renew their car number stickers with Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).
The officers informed participants that it was a criminal offence in the city of Columbus and Ohio State to drive without a driver’s license or drive with a Temporary Permit without a licensed driver in the car and this could lead to an imprisonment upon conviction.
From the New Americans Magazine investigation, Ohio Revised Code 4510.12 defined driving without a license as anyone who “operates a motor vehicle on a public road, highway or private road intended for public use without a valid driver’s license” or permit.’
According to www.columbuscriminalattorney.com, ‘this is a criminal offense and if you are convicted, it can have serious consequences that will follow you for long after the charges have been dealt with.’
The officer also informed that what is known as International Driver’s License is not known to the traffic law and regulations of the city of Columbus and therefore it is not accepted as a valid permit to anyone to drive.
The officers noted that it was also against the law to drive a car with expired car number sticker, which may necessitate being pulled over by a police officer and receiving a ticket.
The officers noted that before residents put their cars on the road they must have a valid driver’s license, extant car insurance policy and valid car number sticker, noting that it is the requirement of the law to have all of these in the car while on the road.
On what happens when someone relocates from another state in the United States of America with a valid driver’s license. The officers responded that such a person only needs to take their valid license to BMV for a replacement 30 days upon establishing residency in Columbus, Ohio.
The officers, who guided one of the participants to renew her car number sticker online during the dialogue informed that the same could be renewed online by visiting the website of BMV (https://www.bmv.ohio.gov/).
The participants were informed that when an officer pulls over a driver and he/she is not able to provide a valid driver’s license, the car is either impounded or the driver is asked to get a licensed driver to drive the car out of the place where the car is pulled over. The officers also informed them that it is not unusual to take the suspect into their patrol van and handcuff him/her while running his/her information in their database.
The officers advised that it is best for residents to adhere to the law as it is not within the discretion of a police officer to release without booking anyone, who drives without all the necessary documentation as a police officer may become liable if such person so released is involved in any form of crash while still driving without a driver’s license.
The officers also informed that where a crash happened between two drivers and both parties have their complete documentation, and no one is injured and none of the driver is under the influence of drug or alcohol, parties are not arrested and are only encouraged to contact their insurance companies for necessary arrangements for repairs.
Most of the participants expressed concerns on the stringent nature of the traffic law and regulations in the City of Columbus and asked if some concessions could be granted to new immigrants, who are trying to find their feet in the community.
They noted for example that new immigrants should be permitted to drive with Temporary Permit without a licensed driver in the car considering that it is necessary for them to move around to enable them make ends meet without becoming a liability to their relatives or government upon their arrival in the United States of America.
In response to the foregoing the officers noted that their role is to enforce the law and the concerns of the participants can only be presented to the legislative arm of government.
At the conclusion of the dialogue, participants expressed deep satisfaction over the educative nature of the dialogue and expressed the desire to have more of it in the future.
The officers were elated and encouraged by their attendance and promised to further collaborate with CRIS to organize more of such programs and address other areas of the law, including domestic violence.
In a brief interview with the New Americans Magazine at the end of the program, Officers Donald Fletcher and Valentine Wayne noted that they took the responsibility of civic education as it relates to law enforcement and new immigrants as a pet project from their experience with refugees and immigrants, who avoidably run afoul of the letters of the law due to ignorance of the same.
The officers noted that since the ignorance of the law is not an excuse to its breach, it is important to educate new entrants into the community and the United States of America on the basic laws, governing their interactions with the community.
The public-spirited officers noted that new immigrants run afoul of the traffic laws and regulations most of the time and this is avoidable. They are interested in preventing good people from running afoul of the law and jeopardizing the smooth enjoyment of their stay in the city of Columbus.
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