Commissioner hosts dialogue on threats facing some immigrants in Oregon and elsewhere

September 1, 2017

From left: Commissioner Sharon Meieran, Andrea Williams, Kasey Jama, Commissioner Lori Stegmann, Sheriff Mike Reese, Mat Dos Santos

Elected and community leaders came together Friday for a forum on immigration policy in the United States and its potential impact on Multnomah County residents.

The discussion focused on the potential revocation of protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as DACA; a Texas law that would punish local police who do not enforce federal immigration law, known as SB4; and an initiative in Oregon that would repeal a 30-year-old statute limiting the use of state and local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration law, known as IP22.

“These are difficult conversations, but it is up to us and our entire community to have a meaningful dialogue to ensure and protect our civil rights,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who organized the event. “It is our responsibility to be aware, to be informed, and to be vocal.”

Stegmann, who was brought to the United States from South Korea as a baby, said she felt compelled — as an immigrant and as an elected official — to reiterate the county’s equal treatment and protection of all residents, regardless of immigration status. Since taking office in January, Stegmann has organized community listening sessions and workshops to educate immigrant residents of their rights under Oregon law and under the United States Constitution.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said it’s important for law enforcement earn the trust of immigrant residents who fear they might be reported to federal authorities even if their only offense might be a civil violation of being in the country without proper documentation.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann organized a dialogue on threats facing some immigrants in Oregon

“Our primary mission is community safety, and that doesn’t include an enforcement role in immigration,” Sheriff Reese said Friday. “If we were to participate with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] based solely on immigration status, it would violate the law and make our job more difficult.”

Reese was referring to Oregon Revised Statute 181A.820, a law passed in 1987 which limits law enforcement in the state from assisting federal immigration authorities. Jails can still hold a person if federal immigration authorities issue a criminal detainer. And police can also contact immigration authorities, for example, to try and identify someone who may not have valid state-issued identification.

Speakers also discussed Initiative Petition 22, an initiative of Oregonians for Immigration Reform seeks to repeal ORS 181A, thereby giving cities and counties the choice of whether to partner with or ICE.

“So you may be safe here in Multnomah County, but a sheriff in a different county might engage more directly with ICE,” explained Mat Dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. “It’s dangerous and confusing.” It would still be illegal to hold someone on a civil immigration detainer at the request of ICE, he said, citing the 2014 federal court ruling in Maria Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County.

Andrea Williams, executive director of Causa, warned against changing current law. “We need to keep this law,” she said. “The federal government has the resources to enforce immigration law. It’s their responsibility.”

Williams said she expects supporters of IP22 will gather the necessary 88,000 signatures to put the initiative before voters in the fall of 2018. But a more immediate concern loomed Friday for immigrant rights advocates.

Williams and others also expressed concern for the 11,000 undocumented children and young adults in Oregon who are  protected from deportation under DACA. President Donald Trump is considering ending the program, which protected nearly 800,000 people in the United States - people who grew up in the U.S., who arrived before 2007 and before age 16, who study or work and have been productive residents.

“These young people did everything we asked of them, they paid $500, every two years. They passed background checks. They complied with every step,” Williams said. “In exchange for all this we made a promise to protect them.”