Five states in the U.S. have laws that limit how local police can cooperate with federal immigration agents, and Oregon, the first state to pass this kind of law, is one of them. But maybe not for long.

Three of Oregon’s Republican Representatives are now working to overturn Oregon’s sanctuary law in order, they say, “to allow law enforcement to more easily assist Federal Immigration and Customs agents (ICE agents) in removing criminal aliens from our communities.”

The main issue here is should local police gain more authority over identifying, arresting and detaining suspected immigration violators or, as Oregon’s current law makes clear, keep these two law enforcement agencies separate.

While these state representatives are hoping to place repeal measure IP 22 on the November 2018 statewide ballot, and have already started collecting the required 88,184 signatures they need from registered Oregon voters by July 2018, the opposition is also gearing up to save Oregon’s “Sanctuary” law.

This state law, passed in 1987, did not begin life as a specific sanctuary law for undocumented immigrants. Some say it was in response to racial profiling of U.S. citizens born in other countries, while others believe it was a way for local police to get out of footing the bill for enforcing Federal Immigration laws. Whatever the original intent, this law is a tug-of-war issue in the controversies over the rapidly shifting U.S. Immigration and Customs policies.

Those who believe unfunded, untrained and over-worked local police should not take on the rounding up of undocumented immigrants in their cities and counties, especially during a time in our country when immigration policy is in flux, want to keep this Oregon law on the books. Those opposed say more effort is needed to contain a problem they see as being caused by flawed immigration policy and increased criminal activity in the immigrant communities.

The repeal effort finds fault with Oregon State law that specifically limits local intervention in immigration policies. The exact wording is that “No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency moneys, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship residing in the United State in violation of federal immigration laws.”

Similar sanctuary laws are being challenged in other cities and counties across the U.S. as voters decide whether local police should spend time enforcing Federal Immigration law or step back, obey their current laws and let ICE agents identifying and handle undocumented immigration violations. Which, Time magazine writer Jose Antonio Vargas points out are just that, violations, not criminal acts. “Being in the U.S. without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one… and immigration status is fluid, and depending on individual circumstances, can be adjusted.”

This issue is nationwide and not going away. In an OPB story about Oregon’s sanctuary law,  Ann Morse, Program Director for the Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislators, estimated that 29 states were considering bills that would change their sanctuary policies.

While the facts and legislative language of these laws may be straightforward in their intent to separate the jurisdictions and laws governing local law enforcement and Federal Immigration Agents, the emotions and political rhetoric around this issue run far afield and are causing confusion.

To sort through the issues and gain a better understanding of what is happening in Oregon and around the U.S. concerning the repeal of Sanctuary Law, there will be a meeting on November 8th to learn the facts.

The Racial Justice Organizing Committee is sponsoring a training on Initiative Petition 22. IP22 would repeal Oregon’s decades old law that prevents public funds being used to aid federal immigration agents. This training will teach participants about this petition that is now being circulated and the dangers it presents to people of color in our community, and will equip participants to make presentations to community organizations they are affiliated with. This is the main agenda of the general RJOC membership meeting scheduled for November 8, 6:15 – 8:15 pm, First Congregational United Church of Christ, 700 Marion St NE, Salem.

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