The Fifth Column 

Why Oregon Should Keep its Landmark Sanctuary Law

(HRW) – The Mexican farmworker was only 23 years old and working in an almond orchard in California when the foreman began to offer her food and drink, while reminding her of his power and telling her he could get her more work. This made her uncomfortable, so she always refused, but on the third day, she told me he took her alone to a remote field and raped her.

She told no one. She could not afford to leave the job, and he continued to rape her. She did not even consider calling the police. “I was afraid they would put me in jail; I was afraid [they’d] send me to Mexico because I was illegal,” said the woman, whose name I am withholding to protect her privacy. “I felt very sad and very alone.”

Stories such as hers, sadly, are notuncommon. Fear of the police among immigrant communities has led numerous states and localities to enact so-called “sanctuary” policies limiting the involvement of local law enforcement officials in federal immigration enforcement. Oregon was a pioneer, enacting a law 30 years ago that prohibits the use of state and local resources to enforce federal immigration law if the person’s only crime is being in the U.S. illegally.

Forty percent of people working in Oregon in farming, fishing and forestry are foreign-born. One in 10 residents is an immigrant. But an initiative to repeal this law — Initiative 22 — is on the November ballot.

If IP 22 passes, it will put the safety of these people at risk, as well as the safety of their neighbors.

This is not simply the opinion of organizations such as Human Rights Watch. The Trump administration claims that policies that limit police involvement in federal immigration enforcement threaten public safety. But prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs have spoken out against the administration precisely because they fear that its policies are imperiling entire communities, U.S. citizen and immigrant alike.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has said that state and federal policies pushing back against “sanctuary cities” have affected his job, making immigrants more reluctant to talk with police. Cities around the country report significant drops in reports by Latinos of sexual violence, including a 40 percent drop in Houston in 2017, compared with the same period the year before.

Police rely on not only the willingness of immigrant victims to report crimes, but also on immigrant witnesses and community members to fight crimes. In Colorado, Alan Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant, encountered an armed robbery at a convenience store. Instead of running away, he tried to stop the robbery, chasing the gunman even after he was shot. The police, grateful for his assistance, nicknamed him “Superman,” and Gonzalez ended up as a star witness for the prosecution.

Oregon faces other harm should IP 22 pass. Programs that actively engage local law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement have been found to facilitate racial profiling, which is precisely why Oregon’s sanctuary law was passed 30 years ago. A Department of Justice investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona found that, after former Sheriff Joe Arpaio entered into an agreement with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws, deputies engaged in unconstitutional conduct, including racial profiling, and that Latino drivers in certain parts of the county were nine times more likely to be stopped by law enforcement officers than other drivers.

Immigration reform.
Image Source: jvoves, Flickr, Creative Commons

study by the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley found that the Criminal Alien Program in Irving, Texas led to local police arresting Hispanics for the least serious class of misdemeanors at significantly higher rates than whites and blacks.

Oregon passed its law restricting local law enforcement involvement in federal immigration enforcement long before “sanctuary cities” became a hot political issue. The longstanding, sound reasons for the law existed then — and exist now. It should not be repealed.

Originally published by Human Rights Watch by Grace Meng

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