A ballot measure in November to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law could complicate local law enforcement’s relationship with the Hispanic community while repairing it with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The measure would overturn sanctuary protections — created in 1987 — that largely prohibit state and local police from enforcing federal immigration laws.
Many sheriffs welcome the opportunity to work more closely with ICE to detain undocumented inmates at county jails. Others in law enforcement, however, are concerned it could cause difficulty if Hispanics are more fearful of police.
A series of demonstrations across the state on Saturday — including one in Astoria — showed the opposition to the measure.
“I think safety is a concern for people,” said Andrea Gonzalez, of the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council. “I think it’s just another, kind of, scare tactic toward the immigrant community.”
Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin is a member of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association, which includes sheriffs from 15 states. The association expects to make a decision about whether to endorse the measure in the next few weeks.
Bergin supports the measure himself and believes others in the association will follow suit.
“I see pretty strong support, but we need to make sure to follow our rules and our guidelines,” the sheriff said. “We realize this is a good deal to rescind or revoke or repeal the sanctuary state law.”
Criticism from ICE
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has repeatedly criticized sheriff’s offices in the state — including Clatsop County — for not adhering to requests to detain and alert the agency about undocumented immigrants who are arrested.
Bergin has said he is worried about potential civil rights lawsuits, citing the state sanctuary law. He hopes voters will agree to change the law and that his office will have a more fluid relationship with ICE.
“It hamstrings us and doesn’t allow us to work with the federal government,” Bergin said. “We’re looking for the bad people.”
Bergin would not direct his deputies to ask people they encounter during traffic stops or on the street for proof of citizenship, he said.
“That’s ludicrous,” he said. “Can you imagine how much that would clog up our system?”
Like Bergin, others in local law enforcement do not seem eager to verify citizenship.
The Astoria Police Department’s workload is already full, Deputy Chief Eric Halverson said. Some people, however, regardless of their immigration status, are reluctant to report crimes to police out of fear of retaliation. “I don’t know what this would look like,” Halverson said. “I believe it would add some complexity to that for sure.”
Whether or not police change their methods, Gonzalez said a repeal would create more fear of racial profiling.
“I think that’s the bigger scare for the community as a whole here,” Gonzalez said, given that Astoria is overwhelmingly white. “As someone who is brown, I will be profiled by my race where other people wouldn’t. I think that’s true for a lot of rural communities. They don’t know what it’s like to be racially profiled, so they won’t notice, but people of color will obviously.”
Oregonians for Immigration Reform played a major role in gathering signatures for the ballot measure.
In 2014, the group pushed Measure 88, which overturned a law passed by the state Legislature that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s cards.
“People are very upset about how denigrated citizenship has become in this country,” said Jim Ludwick, the group’s communications director. “Quite frankly, nobody gave us a chance. Even I didn’t think we had a chance.”
Due to the success of Measure 88, and with President Donald Trump pressing immigration reform as a national priority, the group is optimistic about November.
“The fervor with which people signed the initiative was amazing,” Ludwick said. “I believe we’ll win overwhelmingly.”
Gonzalez agreed that the measure may have legs. “I am pretty concerned,” she said.