By Gordon R. Friedman

The Oregonian

A high-level U.S. Department of Justice official sent a threatening letter to Oregon criminal justice officials Wednesday, demanding documents about the state’s compliance with a federal immigration law and saying they “will subpoena” the records if Oregon fails to give them over by deadline.

Oregon could lose several million dollars in federal grants if it is found to violate federal law, the Justice Department letter said.

Twenty-three jurisdictions were sent similar letters Wednesday, including in Washington and California.

Gov. Kate Brown responded by saying Oregon “will not be bullied” into implementing Trump administration policies. Brown also said Oregon is in “full compliance” with federal law.

The subpoena threats come as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ramped up the Justice Department’s crackdown on local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

But it’s unclear how much teeth is behind the Justice Department’s threats.

Sessions slammed sanctuary jurisdictions, and Portland in particular, during a visit to the city in September. He said local governments with sanctuary policies “believe they are above the law,” and that such policies lead to more crime and gang involvement.

Sessions urged jurisdictions to “reconsider” their sanctuary policies in a statement Wednesday.

“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law. We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement — enough is enough,” Sessions said.

In practice, sanctuary laws generally mean local law enforcement officers do not alert immigration agents when they release offenders who are in the country illegally. Oregon has had a law for three decades that prevents law enforcement agencies from using their resources to cooperate with immigration officials.

“Oregon is a welcoming place for all who call our state home,” Brown said in a statement. “As governor, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that the rights and values of all Oregonians are protected.”

Wednesday’s letter was signed by Jon Adler, director of the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, which administers programs that send money to local jurisdictions for crime-fighting efforts. The letter was addressed to Michael Schmidt, director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. Schmidt was not immediately available for comment.

The Criminal Justice Commission develops Oregon’s statewide law enforcement policy, and Brown appoints seven of the nine commission members.

Adler wrote to Schmidt that he “remains concerned” Oregon is breaking a federal law banning local governments from enacting laws that limit communication with the Department of Homeland Security about “immigration and citizenship status.” Oregon has contended it does not violate that law.

The letter asks Oregon officials to turn over any “orders, directives, instructions or guidance” to state law enforcement agencies regarding their ability to cooperate with federal immigration agents. Officials have one month to release the documents, according to the letter.

If Oregon is found to violate the federal law in question, the Justice Department could “seek return” of $4 million the agency granted to Oregon in 2016 and 2017 for criminal justice programs.

Last year, the Justice Department asked Schmidt, the Criminal Justice Commission director, to prove Oregon is not in violation of federal immigration law. In his response, Schmidt said Oregon’s laws are not in conflict with federal immigration statutes because they do not “restrict the sharing of information” with federal agents.

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