Why is ORS 181A.820 so important, and why are anti-immigrant organizations working so hard (and spending so much money from out-of-state millionaires and alt-right organizations) to put a measure on the ballot to overturn it?
Sometimes called Oregon’s sanctuary law, actually, ORS 181A.820 doesn’t provide immigrants with sanctuary at all; indeed, no state has the constitutional authority to do so. Under Article II of the constitution, immigration is a matter completely reserved to Congress.
What the law does do is to assure that local police resources are reserved for enforcing Oregon’s criminal laws, and aren’t squandered doing the work of federal ICE agents in finding and apprehending hard-working, law-abiding berry harvesters and landscapers who are working in Oregon without authorization. Local police departments have plenty to do investigating real crimes against people and property. Immigration law is quite complicated, and local police aren’t trained about the nuances of enforcing it. This is a recipe for violation of the rights of those of perceived foreign appearance. If an immigrant violates the criminal laws of Oregon, ORS 181A.820 permits police to arrest them and to communicate freely with ICE about their identity and status. It is only when a person’s sole offense is how she entered the country that the law restricts local police activity.
This is partly to protect public funds from waste and misuse, but the implications are far broader. The derivation of the term “outlaw” comes from old English law under which the king could ordain that certain persons were outside the protection of the king’s laws. Such persons became completely vulnerable to the predations of others who abused them. They had nowhere to turn for help or protection. At the end of the day, their only remedy to protect their lives, families and property was to arm themselves and resort to self-help.
Prior to the adoption of ORS 181A.820, unauthorized immigrants in Oregon found themselves in virtually such an “outlaw” state. I’m reminded of a client who sought my help some years ago. He’d given a hitchhiker a ride, was robbed of his car and money at knife-point, and left, barefoot, along the side of a country road. He walked eleven miles into town, found the police department, and reported the robbery. Rather than investigating this violent crime, the police arrested and jailed him. When he was released weeks later, no steps had been taken on his complaint, and the car had not even been reported as stolen. However one feels about unauthorized immigrants in our communities, surely we can all agree that failure to enforce laws like assault and armed robbery is a bad idea.
Cases like this would certainly return if ORS 181A.820 were repealed. People in the immigrant community would lose confidence in the police, and would not report crimes or cooperate in their investigation. Police leaders across the state agree that this would severely hamper their efforts at effective community policing.
A ballot measure to repeal ORS 181A.820, IP22, is being circulated for signature by out-of-state millionaires and by Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a nativist group that is hostile to the rights of immigrant workers.
If you are asked to sign IP22 to repeal the law, you should decline. And if the huge sums pouring in from out-of-state result in the measure being certified for the ballot, all of us must unite to defeat this hate-inspired step backward.