The Salem Weekly strongly urges readers to vote against Measure 105, which repeals Oregon’s Sanctuary Law banning state and local police officers from assisting the Federal government in the arrest of undocumented immigrants. Backed by broad popular support, the Legislature passed the law almost unanimously in 1987. It allows immigrants to cooperate with local police, to feel secure in their homes, to send their kids to school, and to access health and other public services without fear of arrest. The law has successfully reduced racial profiling and harassment of migrants and people of color, and studies show that it has improved the quality of life in many communities by reducing crime and promoting economic opportunity.
Measure 105 aims to reverse these gains. Promoted by Oregonians for Immigration Reform – a group backed by a plethora of far-right organizations and named as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – its passage would allow state and local law enforcement agencies to use their resources to detect and apprehend people – overwhelmingly from Mexico and Central America – whose only violation of the law is a violation of federal immigration law. It would undermine trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, deepen fear among the undocumented, and leave them exposed to intensified exploitation in the workplace. Going to work, sending children to school, and seeking medical care would all entail greater risk, as the likelihood of arrest and deportation would increase.
Measure 105’s supporters argue, wrongly, that undocumented immigrants drive down American workers’ wages, increase crime rates, and represent a drain on social and educational services. They have designed Measure 105 to ratchet up terror among the undocumented and to drive them out of the country. This cruel and inhumane approach is not only morally wrong, but represents a fundamental misreading of what is driving migration from Mexico and Central America.
Migration has multiple causes. For example, when American, Canadian, and Mexican elites created the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, it worked to the advantage of corporations in all three countries, but it undercut the security of industrial workers in the U.S., whose jobs were frequently transferred to low wage Mexican plants, and it destroyed the livelihood of millions of Mexican farmers who could not compete against cheap American corn. Under NAFTA, goods freely cross borders but workers cannot, allowing corporations to intensify competition between the workers of both countries, to drive down wages, and to raise profits. In the ruined Mexican agricultural economy, people did what they always do to survive: they followed the market to where the jobs were in the United States. Their “illegality” is not their fault. It is, rather, the corporate elites and their political servants who are responsible.
From 1950 to 1990 much of Central America was destroyed by civil wars in which, in the name of anti-Communism, the United States backed murderous tyrannies that blocked any substantial economic or political reforms in these impoverished countries. Many of them, especially Guatemala and El Salvador, have never recovered. With governments unable or unwilling to cope with high unemployment, endemic gang violence, and intensifying environmental crises, many desperate families have fled to the United States seeking security and work. They are part of the blowback of disastrous U.S. policies, a legacy that we prefer to ignore when casting about for scapegoats in the immigration crisis.
A wall will not resolve this crisis and neither will mass deportation. Instead, we need to create a North American polity that permits workers in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to move along with goods, that links them into national and transnational social security systems, that integrates them politically, and secures their rights to organize and express themselves. Models, such as that of the European Union, already exist and can be improved. At the same time, the U.S. should take responsibility for the damage it caused in Central America and it should undertake measures, economic and political, to promote opportunity and hope, the only real antidotes to despair and flight.
Repealing the Sanctuary Law is not a constructive way to deal with complex problems. Please vote no on Measure 105.