Among Oregon’s five ballot measures up for the November 6 election, none so clearly embody the state’s ideological divisions as Measure 105. The measure would repeal Oregon’s sanctuary status, which has protected the rights of immigrants and minorities since it passed with bipartisan support over 30 years ago, while keeping state and federal resources separate. Measure 105 is a threat to our state’s communities, workers, businesses, law enforcement, and to the rights of all Oregonians, regardless of citizenship status.
The story of Oregon’s sanctuary law starts well before the presidency of Donald J. Trump. It began in 1977, in the Hi Ho restaurant, in Independence, Oregon. In the early morning, a group of police officers approached a four Latino men seated at a table, questioning them about their citizenship status without a warrant, or any identification. An officer grabbed one of the men, Delmiro Trevino, made him stand up, and continued to question him.
With the help of Rocky Barilla, a young attorney who later become the first Latino elected to Oregon’s legislature, Trevino filed a class action lawsuit. A settlement was eventually reached, preventing police officers from acting under the Immigration and Naturalization Service without an agent present. In 1987, as a Democratic member of Oregon’s house, Barilla proposed one of the nation’s first sanctuary laws, forbidding local law enforcement from working with U.S. immigration officers. He was surprised to find a lack of opposition to the bill from the right; the law was passed with only one dissenting vote in the Oregon Senate and one in the House. Since then, the law has set an example for other states and cities, and seven other states have passed similar laws.
A central purpose of Oregon’s sanctuary law is the prevention of racial profiling. Under the guidance of federal immigration law enforcement, it became common in the ‘70s and ‘80s for local police officers to accost Latino residents frequently and without cause. In Trevino’s case and others like it, it became clear that this practice was a misuse of local law enforcement, and of detriment to communities across the state. Ramon Ramirez, president of the Oregon Farmworkers Union (PCUN) stated, “Before Oregon had this law, I saw immigration agents, aided by local police, busting down doors and grabbing people off the street, with no way of knowing their immigration status,” he said. PCUN was one of the groups to originally back the sanctuary law when it was proposed by Barilla in 1987.
Out of Oregon’s 36 county sheriffs, 16 voiced their support for Measure 105, in an August press release. Only two have opposed the measure. This contrasts with another original intent of the bill: protecting local resources and easing the workload of local police. By delegating the duty of immigration enforcement to federal authorities, the sanctuary law allows county police to focus on local crime instead of national immigration issues. However, the line between the two can become blurred, as over time, hatred and xenophobia have perpetuated the myth of the criminal immigrant. In the letter signed by 16 county sheriffs, Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin wrote that immigration law offenses “are precursors to other crimes illegal immigrants routinely commit to conceal their illegal presence.” However, a recent Texas study from the Cato Institute found that illegal immigrants are significantly less likely to be convicted of a crime than native-born residents. And the Portland Police Bureau, the largest municipal law enforcement bureau in the state, is already notoriously understaffed. The sanctuary law, then, is beneficial to the goals of local law enforcement, as well as to the communities they protect.
The sanctuary law is extremely important to Oregon’s economy. Colombia and Nike, two of the largest corporations based in the state, recently released statements opposing Measure 105. Nike President, Chairman, and CEO Mark Parker stated, “Nike employs people from all over the world; we can attest to the unique value, contributions, and innovations that people from diverse backgrounds add to Nike and to Oregon’s culture and economy. Ending Oregon’s sanctuary law will damage Oregon’s long-standing track record as a place that attracts diverse talent from across the globe.” According to Andrea Williams, executive director of Causa, an immigration rights nonprofit that supports the campaign to protect the sanctuary law, over 400 Oregon businesses have opposed Measure 105. The Portland Business Alliance is one of over 85 organizations to oppose the measure, and stated on their website that “Repeal of the sanctuary law would roll back Oregon’s commitment to making immigrant communities, who are an important part of the state’s economic fabric, safe from harassment.”
The groups primarily supporting Measure 105 are Oregon’s For Immigration Reform and Federation of Immigration Reform. Both have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The measure is opposed by a coalition of law enforcement officers, businesses, and organizations, united under the name Oregonians Against Racial Profiling. The group has held rallies, fundraisers, and trainings aimed at defeating the measure. For the good of Oregonians on both sides of the state, on both sides of the law, it is imperative that Measure 105 not pass, and that Oregon’s sanctuary law remain a beacon of civil liberty for other states to follow.