Immigration is a hot topic right now, and both sides of the debate have gone a little overboard. On the right, some people insult newcomers to our country and call them criminals, even though our nation was built on the backs of immigrants. On the left, we hear calls to "abolish ICE," as if we should live without any immigration laws at all.
Locally, we are dealing with Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon's "sanctuary state" law, technically known as ORS 181A.820.
I think both sides should stop the insanity. As district attorney I would like to share some facts about our so-called "sanctuary state" law and tell you why I am voting "no" on Measure 105.
First, you may be interested to know that this law has been on the books for 30 years without anyone really complaining about it. It passed overwhelmingly in 1987 with support from law enforcement, Republicans and Democrats. The vote was 29-to-1 in the Senate and 58-to-1 in the House. If this law has been so bad for public safety, I'm curious why it took so long for anyone to notice.
Second, 181A.820 has not turned Oregon into a "sanctuary state," despite what politicians on both sides like to say. Illegal immigrants who come to Oregon get deported the same way they do anywhere else. What's more, 181A.820 specifically authorizes local police to share information with federal authorities and does not prohibit our cops from using resources to detect, apprehend or cooperate with immigration officials when they suspect someone has violated immigration law and committed a crime.
Our current law only prevents police from doing one thing —- it prohibits our police from wasting their time investigating immigrants who are not suspected of criminal activity. When the law passed in 1987, Republicans and Democrats agreed that local police were spread too thin investigating local crimes to worry about people who were undocumented but not victimizing anyone.
Now that I have told you some basic facts about the law, I'd like to tell you why I think we should keep it.
First, while it's reasonable for law enforcement to work with ICE when they identify a criminal that should be deported, Columbia County cops shouldn't waste their days investigating whether an otherwise law-abiding resident has the correct immigration papers. That's ICE's job. I fully support ICE doing what they do, but I don't see why our Sheriff Office should do ICE's job for them when we have real criminals at large in our community.
Second, I like our law because victims and witnesses need to feel comfortable reporting crimes. If immigrants think our cops are out to get them, they won't call 911, criminals won't get caught, and eventually Columbia County citizens will be victimized. This endangers all of us. This isn't a "liberal" or "conservative" idea, but a practical one. If a crime victim is a U.S. citizen and comes to me seeking help, I don't grill them about whether they paid their taxes and scare them out of my office. If the IRS wants to go after them, they certainly can, but I'm too busy trying to protect the public.
Since nobody complained about this law for 30 years, I can't help but wonder if Measure 105 is more about politics than public safety. Regardless of how you vote, I hope you will do so based on the facts and not the hype that you hear from both sides on this issue.
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