A 31-year-old Oregon law that prevents local police officers and sheriff's deputies from acting as immigration agents is on the ballot in November. Voters in the Portland metro area should follow the advice of their local sheriffs and reject Ballot Measure 105, which would repeal what has erroneously been labeled by anti-immigration forces as a "sanctuary law."
The sheriffs of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties all have told the Pamplin Media Group they oppose repealing the law. They, along with many other public safety professionals, say the 1987 law helps them by providing clear guidelines for local law enforcement agencies when dealing with people who may be in the country illegally.
Measure 105 made it to the ballot via initiative petition. Contrary to what its proponents argue, Oregon's existing law does not bar cooperation between federal immigration agents and local police. It just sets the ground rules for such coordination, and it reduces the chances for racial profiling — which was the original purpose of the law. If police officers and sheriff's deputies aren't expected to be checking people's immigration status, then they are less likely to make the mistake of detaining someone just because of their skin color, attire or accent.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese notes that immigration infractions are civil offenses, and that his deputies only enforce criminal violations. This means, even if Measure 105 passes and the 1987 law is repealed, sheriff's deputies still would be unable to arrest someone for an immigration violation, and they would have no jail space to accommodate them even if they did.
Beyond that, Reese and the other local sheriffs say repealing this civil rights law would make their jobs harder. If people living in immigrant communities believe sheriff's deputies or police officers are concerned about their immigration status, they will be less likely to report crimes if they are victimized by an abusive spouse, a car-prowler or con artist.
This reluctance will hinder swift response and thorough investigations, making the entire community less safe.
Voters may be confused about where Oregon's sheriffs stand on this measure. Last month, 16 of the state's 36 sheriffs signed a letter supporting repeal of the law. However, the other 20 sheriffs did not sign the letter. None of the sheriffs within the eight counties served by the Pamplin Media Group — Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia, Yamhill, Marion, Jefferson and Crook — were among the signatories.
Oregon's law has worked well for three decades. In the current political climate, it has gotten swept up into a debate about how local police should interact with immigrants.
That's particularly unfortunate, when you consider that Oregon's statute is not a reaction to today's polarized politics and is not intended to thwart immigration enforcement. It simply defines roles, so that law enforcement officers and immigrants (regardless of their legal status) can focus on keeping their communities safe, rather than worrying about carrying out divisive federal policies.
Federal agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement are supposed to handle immigration concerns, while police officers and sheriff's deputies focus on criminal matters.
As far as crime rates go, statistics show immigrants in general are less likely than native-born Americans to commit criminal offenses.
There have been a few, well-publicized and tragic examples of undocumented immigrants committing terrible crimes. The offenders were arrested and punished. After all, anti-profiling laws do not prevent police from doing their primary job of enforcing the criminal code.
We agree with local law enforcement officials that they should concentrate on preventing and solving criminal violations and communicate with ICE when it is appropriate on immigration cases.
Voters should reject Measure 105.
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