Sheriff will stay out of fray over sanctuary law
When 18 Oregon sheriffs recently released a letter in support of Measure 105, which proposes to repeal the state's sanctuary law, Yamhill County Sheriff Tim Svenson was among the 22 in the state not to sign.
Svenson said he refrained from endorsing the letter, which argues the state's status as a sanctuary state "undermines respect for law in significant ways," not because he necessarily opposes the measure or because he's uncomfortable taking a stance publicly. The primary reason is that he doesn't believe that repealing ORS 181.850, which would occur with a "yes" vote on Measure 105, would have any impact either on how his office enforces law or deals with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"Even if they repeal what 181 says, it doesn't change the way that I'm doing business right now when it comes to dealing with individuals in my facility that are deemed foreign born," Svenson said. "I'm notifying ICE when they come in, they're allowed to do their interview when they are in our facility, they are notified of their custody status and when they're going to be released.
Svenson added that the state's sanctuary law is one of three primary things that limit his office's involvement in immigration enforcement, but it's the least impactful when it comes to day-to-day operations.
The others are the 2014 federal court ruling in Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County as well as Oregon House Bill 3464, which was passed in 2017 and further restricts use of public funds and personnel for immigration enforcement.
Svenson said the Miranda-Olivares case has been the most influential after the court ruled that local law enforcement violated a woman's Fourth Amendment rights by holding her solely on the basis of a 48-hour detainer issued by ICE.
"The only thing I'm not doing is holding them beyond their release date or time for local charges for ICE to come get them," Svenson said. "If 105 passes, I'm still not going to be able to hold them past their local charge time to release them to ICE."
In Svenson's estimation, passing Measure 105 also wouldn't open the door for sheriffs or local police departments to begin independently enforcing immigration law. That includes inquiring about a person's citizenship status or arresting them solely on that basis, because those actions are also prohibited by HB 3464.
"It doesn't mean that my staff would have the ability to randomly stop people walking on the street and ask them if they're a citizen or not," Svenson said. "There are many other things going on in the community that my deputies need to be paying attention to."
Svenson added that the sanctuary law doesn't inhibit sheriffs or police from enforcing crimes involving illegal immigrants because he and his deputies pursue crime regardless of immigration status.
"From our perspective, we're about protecting the public and if people are in our community committing crimes, whether they are citizens or foreign born, they're going to be held accountable," he said.
Furthermore, from a personal perspective Svenson said he believes his office shouldn't be tasked with enforcing immigration law anyway.
"I've always said that immigration and enforcement of immigration is a federal issue that's for federal partners to enforce and it's not something for local law enforcement to get involved in or should be involved in," he said.
For those reasons, Svenson believes the true purpose behind 105 is more about sending a message.
"I think the reasoning behind 105 is more a political stance of citizens wanting to say, for whatever reason, we're not a sanctuary state," Svenson said.
In that context, Svenson doesn't believe coming out on either side of the ballot measure will add much to what is already a muddled and emotional issue, but he's happy to leave that to voters.
"It's very hard because, especially with the office of sheriff, a lot of people want you to latch on to their cause and if you sign on to something then you're automatically against something else," Svenson said. "I'm not staying neutral in that I'm not trying to take a side. I'm saying that if the citizens want to take that law off the books, for whatever reason, then I support their right to vote to do that."
Svenson espoused a balanced view both on 105 in particular and immigration in general, pointing out the bluster in some of the arguments used on both sides.
For instance, he doesn't believe that repealing the sanctuary law would discourage the reporting of crime by immigrants because they'd be worried about local police enforcing federal immigration law.
"From my experience, I haven't seen that," Svenson said. "On a routine basis, we work really closely with our minority populations and have regular communications with their groups. We've continued to try to build that trust across law enforcement and I've made it pretty clear to local leaders that my staff are not here to enforce immigration law. We're here to enforce crimes. I just haven't seen that piece."
He also noted, as did the letter in support of Measure 105 signed by 18 sheriffs, that a process already exists to grant temporary visas to immigrants, including victims of crimes, who cooperate with law enforcement.
Svenson also prefers to use the term "foreign born" instead of "illegal immigrant" because the latter has been unfairly conflated to mean Hispanic, whereas the county regularly detains and communicates with ICE about individuals from countries all over the world.
"I like to remind our partners that the Hispanic community, even though there is a heavy population, they're not the only ones coming through our facility," Svenson said.