Will Racke, DCNF
California frequently comes to mind when people think of the one state pushing back hardest against the Trump administration’s immigration agenda.
With its massive Hispanic immigrant population, outspoken big-city mayors, and Democratic-dominated government, it attracts the lion’s share of media attention as an exemplar of a sanctuary state. But for all of its pro-immigration, anti-Trump bona fides, California still falls short of its neighbor to the north.
No state has done more than Oregon to position itself as the most ardent — detractors would say say extreme — sanctuary state of all. As the Trump administration moves to crack down on jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents, arch-progressive, first-term Gov. Kate Brown remains defiant, advancing laws that build on Oregon’s long history of shielding illegal immigrants from the federal government.
30 years of sanctuary
The “sanctuary” term, whether referring to cities, counties or states, has become a convenient shorthand to describe any jurisdiction that refuses to assist the federal government in enforcing immigration law. The label gets tossed around in discussions about Trump’s tough immigration agenda, and it carries different connotations depending on who is doing the talking.
Opponents of sanctuary cities, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, use it as an epithet to describe local governments who put politics over the safety of their citizens, while supporters like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wear it as a badge of honor in defiance of an overreaching federal government.
Oregon was a sanctuary state before anybody used the word to describe how states work, or refuse to work, with the federal government on immigration enforcement. In 1987, the Oregon legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that blocked the state’s police departments from using any resources to arrest or detain people wanted on immigration violations.
“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,” the law states.
The blanket prohibition prevents police from arresting illegal aliens unless they have broken certain immigration-related sections federal criminal code or are the subject of a warrant signed by a federal judge or magistrate. Most of Oregon’s police agencies also interpret that law to mean that they cannot agree to requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold criminal aliens in local jails beyond their release dates.
The Multnomah County Sheriffs Office, which covers the city of Portland, clarified its position in a September 2016 memo, saying that both state law and a U.S. district court decision prevent jail officials from honoring ICE detainers. Like many similarly-situated county sheriffs overseeing liberal counties, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese has painted the sanctuary policy as a benefit to public safety.
“The Sheriff’s Office is not responsible for enforcing federal immigration policy. We are primarily responsible for local law enforcement,” Reese wrote in the memo. “In this role, it is vital community members feel comfortable calling 911 to report crimes and to participate as witnesses and victims in our local system, without fear of that information being shared with ICE.”
In effect, Oregon has for many years enforced policies that states including California and Massachusetts are now trying to put in place with their own sanctuary state legislation.
A political opportunity
Though Oregon was a sanctuary state in name and practice long before Trump became president, the state’s Democratic leaders have redoubled their efforts to protect illegal immigrants since Inauguration Day.
As soon as Trump took office and began issuing executive orders on tougher immigration enforcement, local and state authorities countered with immigration directives of their own. Particularly in Multnomah County — a bastion of West Coast progressivism where Hillary Clinton won 76 percent of the vote — opposition to the administration’s immigration policies became one of the surest ways to win political favor with liberal constituents.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners issued a resolution declaring the county a sanctuary jurisdiction and affirming that residents would continue to have access to all county services regardless of immigration status. The commissioners said the resolution was necessary due to “recent political events” that “have continued to spur and build a climate of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination toward many in our communities.”
At the state level, Brown followed up with a February executive order that applied the immigration-related restrictions on police to all state agencies. Much like the Multnomah County resolution, Brown’s order also prevented public agencies from making immigration status a condition of receiving public services.
Oregon’s lawmakers have also gotten in on the act with a proposal that would prohibit all “public bodies” in the state from sharing or inquiring about a person’s immigration status except in cases required by federal or state law. Democratic backers of House Bill 3464, which passed both chambers of the Oregon legislature in July, cast the measure as strengthening privacy protections for state residents.
“There is a lot of fear right now in our immigrant communities stemming from increasingly aggressive tactics by federal enforcement agencies,” Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement praising HB 3464. “This bill is a way to help make sure our communities have clear guidance so they are in compliance with state and federal law. It is imperative that we take this important step to protect the rights of all Oregonians.”
Brown has until Aug. 11 to decide whether sign the bill into law, issue a veto or simply do nothing, which would would allow the legislation to take effect automatically. The governor, a progressive darling lauded as one of the most prominent state-level opponents of the Trump administration, has previously expressed support for the bill and is unlikely to send it back to the legislature.
Oregon Democrats remain undeterred in their push to bolster the state’s sanctuary laws, even after an illegal immigrant allegedly raped a 65-year-old Portland woman in late July. The suspect, Mexican national Sergio Jose Martinez, had been deported more than a dozen times and was the subject of an ICE detainer, but Multnomah county jail officials released him from custody in December 2016 without notifying immigration agents.
While neither Brown nor Portland’s Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler have publicly commented on the case, Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher said it was a consequence of the sanctuary policies state Democrats have enacted.
“We need to stop calling Oregon a sanctuary state because it’s not a sanctuary at all,” Thatcher said in a statement calling on Brown to veto HB 3464. “We should be empowering law enforcement, not rapists and sex offenders. You have two choices, you either embrace the rule of law, or you embrace lawbreakers.”
Brown is using the sanctuary issue to boost her growing reputation as an anti-Trump leader and firm up her reelection chances in 2018, said Jonathan Lockwood, Thatcher’s spokesperson, to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Kate Brown is sacrificing innocent Oregonians’ safety on her election altar and I think Oregonians are starting to wake up and realize the sanctuary state Kool-aid she’s forcing on all of us is horrifically toxic,” Lockwood wrote TheDCNF in an email.
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