2017: 'Sanctuary city' votes put spotlight on local cities
Editor's note: This story is part of the News-Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that mattered to readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
It was a whole lot of drama for a little bit of symbolism — but for many people even today, it's still a poignant issue.
First, a preface: Since 1987, Oregon has had what is sometimes called a "sanctuary law" on the books. It prohibits state and local law enforcement from using their resources to find or arrest people because they're in the United States illegally. As a result, whether in Beaverton or Clatskanie, Eugene or La Grande, Multnomah County or Wheeler County, it's against state law for police to target undocumented immigrants because they've violated federal immigration law.
For some, that made the hue and cry in 2016 and 2017 over whether local governments in Oregon should declare themselves "sanctuary cities" a bit puzzling. Why go to the trouble of passing a resolution or ordinance that basically just reaffirms state law? It's not like local governments feel the need to state in their municipal code that murder is a crime, after all.
On the flip side, others argued, what's the harm in a city — like, say, Forest Grove — declaring itself a sanctuary? It has no legal relevance as long as the state law, which supersedes local ordinances anyway, is on the books. Why not show support for the immigrant community and declare a sanctuary city?
The disagreement was on full display in Forest Grove and Hillsboro.
In Forest Grove, the City Council deadlocked on a resolution modeled off Beaverton's sanctuary city declaration. Opponents in the Jan. 23, 2017, vote expressed concern about placing Forest Grove in the crosshairs of the just-inaugurated president, as Donald Trump was publicly warning local governments that self-declared sanctuary cities could lose federal funding.
The sanctuary city resolution failed before a packed auditorium. The City Council actually took up, and passed, a similar resolution declaring Forest Grove to be an "inclusive community for all residents" the following month — but with the hot-button word "sanctuary" taken off the table, the auditorium was virtually empty.
City Councilor Tim Rippe, who voted "no" on the sanctuary resolution and then led the effort to draft the inclusive community resolution that ultimately passed, said he thought the word "sanctuary" was too politically divisive.
"Just like labeling people as a Democrat or Republican puts you immediately into one camp," Rippe explained, "and you can't even have a decent conversation with someone because you've already been labeled."
Members of the Hillsboro City Council were similarly split on the question of whether the Washington County seat should declare itself a sanctuary city. With the six city councilors deadlocking 3-3 on the question, Mayor Steve Callaway waded into the foray, casting a tie-breaking yes vote.
Callaway said he knew the vote was just symbolic, but he said that symbolism is important.
"For me, this is a vote to say to the children who have grown up here, who have done the right thing and have gone to school, that there are no spare parts in Hillsboro," Callaway said.
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