Sanctuary Struggles Hit Home
A decades-old Oregon law is under new scrutiny and a threat of repeal. Here's a look at the state's so-called “sanctuary” law and how it's become part of a national story.
Oregon passed HB 2314 in 1987, in response to unsafe living conditions for migrant workers. It reads:
"No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency moneys, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws."
In other words, state and local resources cannot be used to do federal immigration work. At the time, it was not controversial. It passed nearly unanimously, with one dissenting vote in each chamber.
Oregon's law is contentious now. The Trump administration has made immigration reform and the tightening of borders a priority.
Here's Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to law enforcement in Portland recently:
Sessions: “Sanctuary policies endanger us all. We want to help keep citizens safe and to enforce our laws.”
Sessions points to a handful of cases in which people who had been deported multiple times were arrested, released due to sanctuary laws, and then allegedly committed crimes like rape or murder.
Sanctuary proponents say they will not and should not get in the way of arresting and processing serious offenders. Phil Carrasco is a community organizer in Eugene and is on the Board of Directors at Lane Community College:
Carrasco: “We are not talking about breaking the law. Somebody comes out and is looking for Charlie White. There is a warrant out for the arrest, signed by a federal judge. That person will be removed and jailed.”
Joel Iboa with Causa, the statewide immigrant rights organization, points out safety concerns of his own. He says without the sanctuary law, if state and local police work with federal immigration agents:
Iboa: “We would see decreased trust in an already tenuous relationship with law enforcement. We don't want folks to stop reporting crimes, we don't want people to stop testifying. We don't want folks to fear being unfairly targeted.”
Iboa says there's been a huge increase in hate crimes this year.
The word “sanctuary” is an understood shorthand. It isn't part of Oregon's law, nor is it used in most of the inclusivity regulations passed this year. Many cities like Chicago and Cincinnati have enacted such laws, and several other places have the opposite: North Carolina has banned sanctuary cities since 2015. Texas's SB 4 requires law enforcement to comply with federal immigration authorities, or the officers can go to jail.
Even though the entire state of Oregon is covered, a flurry of local entities have written inclusivity laws this year. Joel Iboa of Causa explains why:
Iboa: “Passing these resolutions and ordinances provides us some safety nets so that if one day, we were to lose the statewide law then we would have backups at the county and city level.”
Iboa thinks there's reason to worry. His job was created in response to the surprise success of Measure 88 in 2014. That statewide vote, which denied driver's cards to undocumented immigrants, was brought to the ballot by Oregonians for Immigration Reform, or OFIR. This year, OFIR is working on IP 22, a petition which would give voters the chance to repeal the state sanctuary law. Their spokesman is Jim Ludwick:
Ludwick: “We had a booth at the state fair. There were times where three of us at the booth couldn't handle all the people who wanted to sign the petition. I believe if we get it on the ballot, we will win.”
Ludwick says they have until July to collect more than 88,000 valid signatures and earn a place on the November, 2018 ballot.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Sessions has threatened to withhold federal funds to states and cities with sanctuary policies:
Sessions: “These grants are not an entitlement. We cannot continue giving such federal grants to cities that actively undermine the safety of federal law officers and actively frustrate our efforts to reduce crime.”
OFIR's Ludwick says he'd welcome the loss of federal dollars:
Ludwick: “I don't care if I have to go without whatever it is that I might get from the federal government. We shouldn't get anything if our government is willing to undercut the federal government.”
Phil Carrasco doesn't think the administration can block the money.
Carrasco: “There is no constitutional basis to say that that is legal, and will be legal, to do.”
The Tenth Amendment prohibits states from being made to enforce federal law. The authority of the government to cut funding to sanctuary cities is in dispute. Parts of Texas's SB4 law have been overturned by the courts, and this summer, Portland joined Chicago and Seattle in suing the federal government for threatening to withhold grant money. While the legalities continue to be argued, Oregonians will likely see more attempts to repeal sanctuary laws as well as efforts to add them in as many cities and counties as possible.
Funding for KLCC's "Borders, Migration, and Belonging" series is provided by the Wayne Morse Center for Law at Politics and the University of Oregon.