Law enforcement representatives, government officials, students, faculty and other community members gathered on the evening of Oct. 15 in Smith Memorial Student Union to participate in a Portland State-sponsored debate on Oregon Measure 105, an initiative which seeks to repeal the state law prohibiting state and local law enforcement from using funds, equipment or personnel to enforce federal immigration law.
The debate, moderated by KATU anchor Steve Dunn, featured questions from reporters Jeff Mapes of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Hillary Borrud of The Oregonian and Chris May of PSU Vanguard. Additional questions were fielded from the audience and from social media.
Proponents of the controversial measure said it is necessary to repeal the law in order to preserve United States immigration laws and ensure public safety. Opponents, however, said a repeal would lead to racial profiling and wasted law enforcement resources.
“[The measure] has to do with criminals; it has to do with felons, illegal felons that are here,” said Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Pendleton, one of the two panelists in support of the measure. “It doesn’t have to do with people who are here illegally, working down in the bistro or something.”
In support of the measure, Cynthia Kendoll—president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, one of the main donors behind the measure—cited the case of Sergio Martinez, an undocumented immigrant who was arrested and later convicted in 2017 for attacking two women, one of whom he sexually assaulted. Local law enforcement had arrested and released Martinez on multiple occasions prior to the assault. Kendoll argued that under the current sanctuary state policy, law enforcement was unable to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to remove Martinez from the country and prevent the assault.
In a statement released after Martinez was arrested, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said state law prevented him from holding Martinez in custody without a criminal warrant from ICE. In the same statement, Reese also said Martinez had been previously deported on multiple occasions and had several criminal convictions in his record.
Former Hillsboro Chief of Police Ron Louie, who now works as a professor of criminal justice at PSU and Portland Community College, challenged the claim that repealing the law would only affect criminals. “My position is in entire opposition to [Measure 105] because the law is not even truly a sanctuary law,” Louie said. “It just says that you won’t use local [and] state resources to enforce immigration…It doesn’t say anything about criminal conduct.”
“I think it will reduce the trust that people will have in the community,” Louie continued. “They’re going to be fearful that our police may now ask questions of immigration status, and that is going to be very, very dangerous for any community.”
Muddying the waters further is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s classification of OFIR as an anti-immigrant hate group. The SPLC cites several pieces of evidence, including OFIR’s support for former Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in 2017 after refusing to abide by a court order to stop detaining undocumented immigrants without probable cause.
Kendoll and Barreto both said they do not support Arpaio or his policies, and that the SPLC classification was merely a political attack.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Andrea Williams, executive director of Oregon immigrants’ rights advocacy organization CAUSA, argued that the sanctuary state policy was originally put in place as a protection against racial profiling by police, and said repealing it would undermine public trust in law enforcement. They cited the case of Delmiro Trevino, a U.S. citizen who was arrested more than 30 years ago in a restaurant in Independence, Ore. on suspicion of being in the country illegally due to his ethnicity. Wheeler and Williams said Trevino’s case, and cases like his, inspired lawmakers to pass the sanctuary state policy nearly unanimously across party lines.
Retired Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto offered an alternative explanation. “It wasn’t about racial profiling. It was about protecting the migrant workforce that was being run out of the state,” he said. “The repeal of this measure, that doesn’t end the conversation in this state. It will never end it. But we’re having the conversation based on a lot of fallacies and a lot of false premises about where this came from. The fact is that what we need to protect is in fact everybody in this state. That includes citizens who had been here and came here legally, as well as people who come here and want to dream, and want to…be successful before they become citizens.”