Voters will have their say whether or not to remove Oregon's so-called 'sanctuary state' law.

COURTESY PHOTOS - Barton, left, took office as Washington County's District Attorney last month. Pat Garrett, right, has been the sheriff of Washington County since 2011.Washington County's two top law enforcement officials are urging voters to shoot down a ballot measure which could do away with Oregon's longtime "sanctuary" practices.

This week, District Attorney Kevin Barton and Sheriff Pat Garrett came out in opposition to Measure 105, which seeks to repeal a state law prohibiting law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Under current state law, police aren't allowed to inquire about someone's immigration status if they have not committed a crime. The law — which has been on the books since 1987 — was not seen as controversial until after the election of President Donald Trump, who made so-called "sanctuary cities" a key campaign theme and has signed executive orders calling for stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws.

In a joint letter sent to newspapers across Washington County this week, Garrett and Barton said Oregon's sanctuary law should not be repealed.

"We believe every member of our community has the right to live, work, and raise a family in safety," Garrett and Barton wrote on Wednesday, Aug. 8. "An essential aspect of being safe is feeling safe and having access to justice."

Barton and Garrett said the state's sanctuary law is misunderstood by most Oregonians. While state law does prohibit police from apprehending people whose only crime is being in the country illegally, it does grant police the ability to apprehend undocumented immigrants who have been accused of committing other crimes.

"In other words, the current law provides no sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant who commits a crime in Oregon," Garrett and Barton said. "In fact, it specifically authorizes police to share information with federal immigration authorities."

Without protections under the law, Garrett and Barton said, undocumented immigrants would be scared to call 9-1-1 in an emergency, or report when they are the victims of a crime, out of fear of being deported. They would also avoid seeking restraining orders and refuse to appear in court to testify as witnesses, they suggested.

"Immigrant communities and families may become greater targets for criminals because they may be less likely to come forward or appear in court to testify," Garrett and Barton wrote. "These are not hypothetical concerns; we have already seen these issues occur."

Removing the statewide law would also open the door for local police departments and sheriff's offices to impose their own directives about how to handle immigration matters, the pair wrote, which could result in a patchwork of inconsistent rules. Police officers in one police department may be allowed to work with immigration authorities, while police in a neighboring department would not.

"Our community is safer when citizens and non-citizens alike report crimes and testify in court so we can arrest and prosecute criminals," the pair wrote.

Washington County is one of Oregon's most diverse communities. Roughly one-third of the county identifies as either Latino, Asian or African American. In Hillsboro, more than one-fifth of the population is Latino. Cornelius is one of the state's only minority-majority communities, with Latino residents making up more than 51 percent of the city's population.

The county has been the site of several investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the past several months, and ICE agents have regularly used the Washington County Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro to pick up suspects accused of being in the country without documentation. ICE agents drew the ire of Garrett and congressional leaders last year after they briefly detained a U.S. citizen in a case of mistaken identity.

Several Washington County cities have passed symbolic resolutions in the past year approving of sanctuary polices. Hillsboro, Portland and Beaverton have declared themselves 'sanctuary cities.' Forest Grove city councilors voted against naming itself a "sanctuary," instead declaring itself an "inclusive community for all persons" Incident.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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