Deschutes County’s outspoken district attorney on Monday joined immigrant rights activists around the state in denouncing a voter campaign to repeal Oregon’s “sanctuary state” law.
Standing alongside members of several groups outside the Deschutes County Courthouse, DA John Hummel said the region’s limited law enforcement resources shouldn’t go to fighting federal immigration battles.
“We don’t have enough officers now to enforce Oregon law,” he said. “If we have to enforce federal immigration law, that’s going to make our community less safe, because most people who are violating federal immigration law are not a danger to our community. I want law enforcement officers to focus on the dangers to our community.”
Joining Hummel were faith and labor leaders, as well as members of Bend Immigration Group, Vocal Seniority and the Latino Community Association of Bend. They’re part of a coalition called Oregonians United Against Profiling that debuted Monday to oppose Initiative Petition 22. Similar events were staged Monday in Portland, Salem and Eugene, and over the weekend in Medford.
“I think it speaks volumes when you have the DA and progressive groups on the same side,” said Noah Goldberg-Jaffe, regional field staff member for AFL-CIO.
IP-22 would repeal Oregon’s 30-year-old law forbidding local and state police from investigating federal immigration violations.
In effect, police are not allowed to stop a person solely because he or she is suspected of not being a legal U.S. resident. It’s the oldest such “sanctuary state” law in the country.
The bipartisan anti-profiling law that passed in 1987 stemmed from an incident in the town of Independence, where officers singled out a group of Latino men in a restaurant and interrogated them about their citizenship status.
With help from anti-sanctuary groups, Republican lawmakers from rural parts of the state sponsored the initiative to repeal the law.
Volunteers with a group called Oregonians for Immigration Reform recently submitted 110,445 signatures in favor of IP-22 to the Secretary of State’s Elections Office. If 88,184 of them are deemed valid, the measure will make the November ballot.
Supporters of IP-22 say current immigration laws should be enforced, that immigrants who are in the country illegally are a financial drain on taxpayers and that they are a risk of violence toward citizens.
Hummel denied that immigrants are a threat in Deschutes County.
“If you’re committing a violent crime, we’re coming after you and we’re going to get you,” he said. “However, data shows us that immigrants — undocumented or documented — commit crimes at a significantly lower rate than people born in the United States.”
Reached Monday, Jim Ludwick, communications director of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, said the group is optimistic it has the signatures to make the ballot. And if that happens, he expects statewide voting to go much like it did in 2014, when voters shot down Measure 88 — which would have allowed immigrants here illegally the chance to get a driver’s card — by 66 to 34 percent.
“Most people are so fed up,” Ludwick said. “The average people are infuriated. Now, the people marching in the street aren’t because they’re the same people that always march in the street.”
Ludwick called Hummel’s claim that immigrants offend at lower rates than Americans born here “an absolute lie.” And in response to Hummel’s statement against scarce law enforcement dollars going to fight federal battles, Ludwick talked about the costs of imprisoning immigrants.
“We’re not in favor of rounding people up,” Ludwick said. “But if a person’s here illegally and they commit a crime, they should have no right to be here.”
Also speaking Monday in a press conference were local Venezuelan immigrant Josefina Riggs and Pastor Erika Spaet of Nativity Lutheran Church.
Riggs spoke in Spanish and English.
“I do not want to worry because of my appearance or because I speak with an accent that I will be subjected to discrimination or abuse,” she said. “We are all immigrants of different status, skin color, language, culture and customs.”
Pastor Chris Kramer of Nativity Lutheran Church in Bend said its food pantry, which serves between 50 and 60 local families, saw a drop-off of about 50 percent for about a three-month period following Donald Trump’s election as president. About half the families the pantry serves are Latino, he said.
“They did eventually come back, but post-election, they vanished,” Kramer said. “The food that was sustaining them, they weren’t getting it.”
Immigrant supporters reported immigrants were less willing to share personal information after Trump’s election. Kramer said he was told by church members who are teachers there was an increase in playground bullying and profiling targeted toward Latino children as well.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org . The Associated Press contributed to this report.