Since President Donald Trump took office, signaling a probable change in federal immigration policy, local leaders have frequently been asked what it means locally.
Is Crook County or the City of Prineville a sanctuary community where undocumented residents will not face the risk of deportation, or will local authorities or leaders turn illegal immigrants over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)?
To help answer that question, Prineville City Council and Crook County Court members held a joint training session Tuesday evening during which local law enforcement leaders explained their policy regarding undocumented residents.
"We decided we needed to have a little training session and find out exactly what we don't know and what we do know," said Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe. "We are here to learn."
Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins kicked off the session, explaining how a state law governs their approach to illegal immigrants.
"The sanctuary city question that seems to have come up in the last year or so is an issue that, quite frankly, was put to bed for us several years ago in law enforcement," he said. Cummins went on to quote Oregon Revised Statute 181A.820. "No law enforcement agency of the state of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency monies, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws."
Cummins went on to stress that during an arrest, city police do not deal with immigration issues.
"We don't ask it. There is really no reason for us to ask it," he said. "If we arrest an individual for a crime and we book them in jail, that's really where the questions begin and how it (immigration status) gets reported."
Crook County Sheriff John Gautney spoke next, walking city and county leaders through how immigration status is handled for those booked into the jail.
"When we receive someone into the jail, if the person is charged with a local crime or a state crime and this person is a foreign-born national, we notify ICE that we have them in custody, and if we have a release date, we tell them the release date," Gautney explained. "However, if the federal government doesn't supply us with the proper paperwork by the time they are done (serving for) their local crime, we have to release them."
Gautney explained that they have to release the person at that time because of a case that originated in Clackamas County in 2012 when they held an illegal immigrant beyond the normal timeframe.
"ICE asked them to hold this person until they could come pick them up. They held the person for six hours over the time they should have been released," Gautney said. "Once that person was out, they got an attorney, filed a federal lawsuit and Clackamas County ended up paying out over $100,000. At that point, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association put out a message to all sheriffs that you will not hold these people because we can't do that if the law says we can't do it. If you do, the county is liable and the sheriff is liable."
Following the explanations from Cummins and Gautney, some city and county officials asked a few questions. City Councilor Jeff Papke sought clarification on exactly what a sanctuary community is. He was told that such a community would not report an illegal immigrant to ICE during the jail booking process.
County Commissioner Jerry Brummer questioned whether release of an illegal immigrant, as required by state law, would jeopardize the community departments or projects receiving federal funding.
In response, City Attorney Carl Dutli acknowledged that he has seen some news releases and news stories about the current federal administration withholding federal funds from communities that declare themselves a sanctuary city or county.
"As far as I know, that has not happened yet," he continued, "but I know that at least from the city's standpoint, that is concerning because we do have a lot of projects that have federal funding."
City Councilor Teresa Rodriguez later asked how Gov. Kate Brown's declaration of Oregon as a sanctuary state affected Crook County and Prineville. Dutli answered that he personally didn't believe Brown had the authority to make such a declaration on her own.
"It would be like one of the council members here saying Prineville is a sanctuary city," he said. "Normally, you only have authority when the whole group votes on it. I would think the Oregon Legislature would have to agree. I may be wrong, but I know of no laws where the governor can just decree that and it magically happens."
Ultimately, Rodriguez concluded that undocumented citizens in Prineville and Crook County would not be at risk of being reported to ICE or deported as long as they don't commit a crime.
"No one is going out and trying to find these people," she said. "It is only when they commit a crime, which is going to affect the city of Prineville people, their welfare or their property."
Gautney confirmed that conclusion.
"If you don't commit a crime, you have nothing to worry about," he said.