Oregon voters will be asked this fall to repeal Oregon’s so-called sanctuary law. Adopted roughly 30 years ago, the law forbids state and local law enforcement agencies to use their resources for detecting or apprehending people solely for violating federal immigration laws. Measure 105, which would erase the law, is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem, and it doesn’t deserve your vote.
Supporters insist that the measure will make Oregonians safer. People who violate immigration law without consequence are emboldened to break other laws as well, they say. Even worse, wrote Clatsop County Sheriff Thomas Bergin in a letter signed by more than a dozen colleagues, existing law “invites the contempt of U.S. citizens and legal residents,” who are expected to “abide by all laws.”
To support his case, Bergin points to the tragedy of Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old student whom an illegal immigrant allegedly murdered this summer in Iowa. Tibbetts’ murder is awful. But argument by anecdote is a desperate strategy that seeks to overwhelm reason with emotion. Opponents of Measure 105 could just easily point to the 40-year-old incident that eventually gave rise to the existing sanctuary law.
In 1977, a group of police officers on the prowl for illegal immigrants entered the Hi Ho Restaurant in Independence and humiliated a U.S. citizen named Demiro Trevino by asking fellow diners to identify him. Trevino sued, and the lawyer representing him eventually was elected to the Legislature and introduced the bill that would become Oregon’s sanctuary law. It enjoyed almost universal support among legislators, who also were worried that the feds would push to use local officers to enforce immigration law without ponying up any money.
The law has lasted for three decades without stirring much controversy in large part because it is very narrow, despite what opponents would have you believe. Notably, it does allow local and state officers to look for and detain allegedly illegal immigrants who also are suspected of violating other laws. Its intent is simply to prevent local and state officers from becoming de-facto immigration officers.
As evidence that Measure 105 is less about public safety than ideology, consider the division among many of the state’s sheriffs. Those elected to protect Oregon’s two largest counties, Multnomah and Washington, oppose Measure 105. In those two counties belonging to the Portland metropolitan area, Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters by a wide margin.
On the other side of the issue are Sheriff Bergin, whose rural county also features more Democratic voters than Republicans. However, every one of the 15 sheriffs who signed his pro-Measure 105 letter in August, including Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, represents a county with a Republican registration edge. If there were a truly compelling law-enforcement reason to repeal the law, you’d think sheriffs’ positions would differ less predictably along geographic and partisan lines.
But, again, Measure 105 isn’t about public safety. Rather, it’s an unfortunate product of our political moment, and it encourages people to vote mad according to their views of Donald Trump, Kate Brown, the wall, the “resistance,” the nation’s incoherent immigration policy, the proliferation of sanctuary cities, you name it. While voting mad can feel pretty good, it often doesn’t produce thoughtful policy, which is what Oregonians ought to want.
For that reason, voters should defeat Measure 105. If there are problems with the state’s very narrow sanctuary law, the comparatively sober legislative process is a far better avenue for resolving them.