OPINION: Immigrant Oregonians are essential to our communities
Alma, a mom of three boys living in Tigard, didn't know her dad was deported until her family received a call from him in Mexico. In 2018, her dad was detained by law enforcement and while the family rushed to try to find opportunities for accessible legal representation, her dad was already gone.
"We've lost so many moments with him that we won't get back," Alma said. "My dad is elderly, he lived in this country for nearly 20 years and built a community here. Now that he's back in Mexico, he's alone. Without an attorney, he didn't know that he might have had other options. Now, it's too late."
For the many members of our community who are immigrants, the experience is all too familiar. Immigrant Oregonians are not guaranteed legal representation even in high-stakes cases that can result in family separations.
The injustice of this system is clear. Research has shown that a community member without legal representation is 5.5 times more likely to be ordered deported, regardless of the merit of their case.
The loss of immigrants has devastating consequences for our communities, from the deeply personal loss of family separation to the economic shocks that accompany the loss of essential workers in our state. And these effects disproportionately impact marginalized communities. Ninety percent of Oregonians facing deportation identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, according to research from Innovation Law Lab. Access to legal representation is essential to ensuring that our legal system is fair and equitable for all.
At Adelante Mujeres, we provide support, educational resources and leadership opportunities to low-income Latina women and their families in Washington County. We regularly work with families who are forcibly separated due to deportation.
The trauma of family separation hangs like a cloud over families, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and faith communities. We've seen that children who are separated from one or both of their parents often need to leave school in order to work or take on additional caregiving responsibilities at home. These disruptions to children's lives limit their educational and future earning opportunities, magnifying the inequities experienced by communities of color.
One in 10 children in Oregon lives with a family member who doesn't have legal immigration status, meaning this issue touches every corner of our state. With so much on the line, it's important that families have access to the resources they need to have confidence in a fair and just process.
That's why Adelante Mujeres is supporting legislation that would ensure universal representation in Oregon.
The legislation would expand a two-year pilot program in Multnomah County that has already proven that the model works. The Multnomah County program protected more than 1,340 Oregonians from unlawful or unjust deportations and over 750 Oregonians who faced violence or persecution abroad were able to request asylum.
Now, we're asking our state lawmakers to support universal representation statewide. The program would ensure that immigrant Oregonians, including refugees and DACA recipients, get critical support when they need it most.
"There are so many families who might have been able to stay together if they had the help of an attorney," Alma said. "Universal representation would be a game-changer for our communities who deserve a fair chance in our courts."
Immigrant Oregonians are a part of the fabric of our communities; we depend on them as our neighbors, friends, coworkers and loved ones.
With universal representation, we will see more families and communities kept whole and build confidence among everyone in our state that our legal system is operating with fairness and justice. These are values supported by Oregonians.
Bridget Cooke is executive director of Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit that supports low-income Latina women and their families in Washington County. Ingrid Solares is a member of Adelante Mujeres' board of directors. Cooke lives in Yamhill. Solares lives in Hillsboro.
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