Efforts to repeal Oregon's sanctuary law

January 14, 2017; updated March 27, 2018
by Elizabeth Van Staaveren
The sanctuary law passed in 1987 by the Oregon Legislature is a hindrance in controlling illegal immigration, and over a period of several years, there have been many efforts to repeal it.
Soon after Oregonians for Immigration Reform was organized, repeal of the law, cited then as ORS 181.850 (now ORS 181A.820), became one of the group’s objectives.  In 2002 OFIR sent questionnaires to candidates for State Legislature.  Question 4 of 10 questions was: “Will you support repeal of the law which prohibits police officers from arresting or assisting in the prosecution and arrest of illegal aliens? Will you support legislation clearly requiring that assistance?”
In January 2003 Rep. Cliff Zauner (R- Woodburn) requested a resolution asking that ORS 181.850 be repealed, and  Rep. Alan Brown (R-Newport) asked the Legislative Council to write the resolution as a bill. Accordingly, HB 2051 was pre-session filed, and introduced in the State Legislature in February, supported by OFIR.
OFIR prepared a sample letter for its members to send to legislators, urging that hearings be held on the bill and explaining why repeal of ORS 181.850 was necessary.   It said, in part, “ORS 181.850 is the state statute that Portland, Corvallis and Hillsboro cited as their excuse not to cooperate with Attorney General John Ashcroft in the questioning of possible terrorists in Oregon following the attack on 9/11 {2001}.  As events have transpired, three Portland residents have been arrested for terrorism conspiracy.  In addition, the INS arrested 124 persons who were working at the Portland Airport, several who had security badges to allow them into sensitive areas.”
In an editorial in opposition to the state law, the Albany Democrat Herald stated, “… {ORS 181.840} sends the wrong signal.  The signal is that as far as the state of Oregon is concerned, it’s all right to violate federal law on immigration – nothing to worry about.”
HB 2051 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee which did hold a public hearing on April 11, but no further action was taken.  In this 2003 session of the Legislature, OFIR had to spend large amounts of time in a major but successful fight against SB 10, a bill granting instate tuition to illegal aliens.
Again in March 2004, in preparation for the spring primary, OFIR sent questionnaires to state candidates, and the number one question to legislators was:  “…We need to establish regular cooperation between federal BICE agents and local law enforcement, yet ORS 181.850 prohibits our police from detecting or apprehending illegal immigrants except under strictly limited circumstances.  Would you be willing to introduce or support a bill to repeal ORS 181.850?”
On August 30, 2005, OFIR President Jim Ludwick wrote to then-Governor Kulongoski urging him to declare a state of emergency in Oregon due to the fact that the federal government was not enforcing immigrations laws.  Mr. Ludwick listed a number of actions the Governor could take to ameliorate the situation, including “Order state police to work with ICE in the apprehension of illegal aliens.”  Ludwick asked for an opportunity to speak with the Governor on these subjects.  Although the requested meeting did not occur, the Governor did take steps to end, as Ludwick requested, the practice of state agencies accompanying the Mexican Consul General on his visits around the state passing out Matricular Consular cards to Mexican nationals.  The state agencies had been handing out information on how Mexican nationals could obtain state benefits.
In January 2006, Gov. Kulongoski replied to the OFIR President by letter from his Policy Advisor, Daniel P. Santos.  The letter relayed the Governor’s position that immigration is a federal responsibility and disclaimed any obligation or interest in assisting in the control of illegal immigration.  Santos defended illegal immigrants as only coming here to work, and claimed that without them, communities would suffer.  Pres. Ludwick wrote a firm rebuttal, asserting that the state can and should play a major role in immigration control.
Preparing for the Spring primary of 2006, OFIR again sent questionnaires to candidates, and question number one again dealt with repeal of ORS 181.850, asking “Would you be willing to introduce or support a bill to repeal ORS 181.850?”  The great majority of candidates who replied to the questionnaire said Yes.
In the 2007 session of the Legislature, Reps. Linda Flores (R-Clackamas) and Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) introduced HB 2682, “Relating to enforcement of immigration laws,” which would permit “law enforcement agencies to apprehend person based upon probable cause that person is in violation of immigration law.” The 18 co-sponsors were Reps. Bruun, Cameron, Dallum, Esquivel, G. Smith, Garrard, Gilliam, Girod, Hanna, Krieger, Krummel, Maurer, Minnis, Olson, Richardson, Scott, Whisnant, and Senator Boquist.  The bill had a First reading on February 13 and was referred to the Judiciary Committee which did not grant it a hearing, thus it expired.
Also, House Republican leader Wayne Scott (Oregon City and Canby) introduced two bills, HB 3426 and HB 3428 both titled “Relating to criminal aliens.”  HB 3426 allowed “state employee to report to federal immigration enforcement authorities information about individual who cannot produce valid, independently verifiable documents to prove that individual is legally present in United States.”  The bill had 18 co-sponsors in the House:  Bruun, Butler, Cameron, Dallum, Flores, G. Smith, Gilliam, Gilman, Hanna, Jenson, Krieger, Maurer, Minnis, Nelson, Olson, Richardson, Thatcher, and Whisnant, and one Senator, Brian Boquist.  Scott’s other bill, HB  3428, required “district attorney to investigate residency status of convicted person.”  Neither of Scott’s bills was granted a hearing; both were buried by the Judiciary Committee and not heard of again.
Initiative Petition 112
Stymied by the Democratic Party’s refusal to support any controls over illegal immigration, OFIR began work toward an initiative which subsequently was filed as IP (Initiative Petition) 112.  It combined and replaced 3 separate initiatives OFIR had originally prepared, then decided that one initiative would be more manageable than three. The certified ballot title for IP 112 was challenged by the opposition but upheld by the Supreme Court.  It said:
 “Allows state cooperation with immigration enforcement; Requires certain documentation for voter registration and driving privileges.”
OFIR held a press conference at the State Capitol on Nov. 13, 2007 to announce the launching of the initiative.  Only 3 days later, Gov. Kulongoski issued Executive Order no. 07-22, “Standards for Issuance of Oregon Driver Licenses and Identification Cards,” including a requirement for applicants to provide DMV with a valid Social Security number and ordering that the DMV shall verify with the Social Security Administration the accuracy of Social Security numbers provided.
Gov. Kulongoski had previously announced the calling of a special session of the Legislature to begin in February 2008.  He wanted to have Oregon issue driver licenses issued only to those who could prove they are citizens and legally present, but he also wanted Oregon residents without such proof to be able to obtain “driver privilege permits.”  OFIR was pleased to hear of his support for proof of citizenship but very displeased about the proposal for illegal aliens to have special driver permits.
In addition to work on the initiative to repeal ORS 181.850, OFIR again for the Spring primary of 2008 sent questionnaires to candidates including the question on candidates’ support for the repeal.
After OFIR had started its initiative in 2007, the Secretary of State announced new procedures to take effect January 3, 2008 for the gathering of signatures on initiatives.  This adversely affected OFIR’s work with the initiative to repeal ORS 181.850.  The change forced OFIR to wait until January 3 to distribute petition sheets for signatures, and we faced a deadline of July 3, 2008 for completing the collection of signatures.  This was not enough time for an all-volunteer group inexperienced in the process to gather the necessary 90,000 valid signatures.  Thus the initiative did not appear on the November 2008 ballot.  However, meantime, SB 1080 had been passed in the State Legislature’s special session of 2008.  This met OFIR’s goal for proof of citizenship for driver licenses, so a very important one third of IP 112 was accomplished.
As OFIR President Ludwick reported in the OFIR newsletter of December 2008:
“ … OFIR was unsuccessful in getting our initiative “The Respect for Law Act” on the 2008 ballot.  It wasn’t because of lack of effort. Trying to collect 120,000 initiative signatures as a grass roots organization is a daunting task. The new initiative rules are stacked against regular citizens petitioning their own state government.”
In support of the initiative, Richard F. LaMountain wrote an excellent “In My Opinion” article that was published in The Sunday Oregonian on May 25, 2008.  The article was entitled, “Enable state’s officers to aid federal enforcement efforts.”  His arguments and the information in the article are still pertinent.  Mr. LaMountain currently serves as OFIR’s Vice President.
Conscientious legislators introduced several bills in the 2009 Oregon Legislature attempting to promote state and local authorities’ cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.  Only one was allowed a hearing by the Democratic Party controlled Legislature, and the other bills died without even a hearing.
Senate, 2009 -- SB 815, sponsored by Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls) and co-sponsored by Senators Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) and Senator Frank Morse (R-Albany), was introduced as “Relating to enforcement of immigration laws:  Permits law enforcement agencies to apprehend person for violation of federal immigration law based upon probable cause.”  On March 16 it was referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it remained with no hearing and no further action.
House, 2009 --  HB 3364 was titled, “Relating to criminal aliens:  Authorizes State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision or county sheriff to release inmate to custody of United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under certain circumstances.”  The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) and co-sponsored by Reps. David Edwards (D-Hillsboro), Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg), Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach), Greg Mathews (D-Gresham), Andy Olson (R-Albany), Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point), Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley), Kim Thatcher (R-Salem), and Jim Thompson (R-Dallas).  On March 16 it was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and on April 14 a public hearing was held, but as of June 29 the bill remained in committee upon adjournment, without further action.
HB 3439, introduced by Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Salem) and co-sponsored by Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford), was titled, like SB 815:  “Relating to criminal aliens: Authorizes State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision or county sheriff to release inmate to custody of United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under certain circumstances.”  On March 16 it was referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it remained with no hearing and no further action.
HB 3440 was titled:  “Relating to immigration:  Requires county to verify immigration status of person incarcerated in county correctional facility.”  It was introduced by Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Salem) at the request of Craig Cox in memory of Judy Cox.  
In 1980, Newberg residents Craig and Judy Cox and others were in a car hit by a drunken driver in the country illegally. Craig's bookkeeper was killed; Judy was hospitalized and left with seizures for life.   Twenty-seven (27) years later, another illegal immigrant drunk driver slammed into the Coxes' car, leaving 66-year-old Judy dead at the scene and 72-year-old Craig a bereaved widower. The perpetrator had six previous DUII convictions and multiple license suspensions.
HB 3440 was co-sponsored by Reps. Vicki Berger (R-Salem), Kevin Cameron (R-Salem), Sal Esquivel (R-Medford), Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg), Greg Smith (R-Heppner), Bill Garrard (R-Klamath Falls), Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton), Ron Maurer (R-Grants Pass), Andy Olson (R-Albany) Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point), Jim Thompson (R-Dallas), Jim Weidner (R-McMinnville), Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville).
The bill was referred on March 16 to the Judiciary Committee where it remained with no hearing and no further action.
For the Spring Primary election, OFIR again included in its questionnaires to candidates, a question on ORS 181.850:
The Pew Research Center estimates that there are 175,000 illegal aliens in Oregon.  Currently, illegal aliens who successfully enter the U.S, or foreign nationals who overstay their visas, face little likelihood of deportation, because we have so few ICE agents working on interior enforcement.  We need to establish regular cooperation between Federal ICE agents and local law enforcement, yet an Oregon State Statute, (ORS 181.850), prohibits our police form detecting or apprehending illegal aliens except under strictly limited circumstances.
Would you be willing to introduce or support a bill to repeal ORS 181.850?
Most respondents to the questionnaire said yes.
Rep. Thatcher introduced 2 bills promoting state cooperation with federal immigration authorities: HB 2802 and 2803, and Rep. Tim Freeman with several co-sponsors, introduced HB 3341 for similar purpose. All three bills were shelved by the House Judiciary Committee and died upon adjournment.
HB 2802, “Relating to aliens, declaring an emergency: Prohibits restrictions on public body’s ability to enforce immigration law to extent permitted by federal law,” was referred to Judiciary Committee on January 21 where it remained until adjournment, with no hearing or further action.
HB 2803, “Requires county to verify immigration status of person incarcerated in county correctional facility. Authorizes law enforcement agency to enforce federal immigration law pursuant to agreement with federal government.”
HB 3341, “Authorizes law enforcement agency to enforce federal immigration law pursuant to agreement with federal government.”
During this period, the Democratic Party increasingly advocated benefits for illegal aliens and supported illegal immigration both nationally and in Oregon.  OFIR led the successful state-wide campaign to overturn SB 833, a bill passed by the Oregon Legislature giving driver licenses to illegal aliens and fought the granting of instate tuition to illegal aliens.  As the Democratic Party grew more entrenched in power in the Oregon state legislature it became impossible to make any progress on state-federal cooperation in immigration law enforcement.
On August 26, 2016 Reps. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) and Michael Nearman (R-Dallas) filed Initiative Petition 6 aimed for the 2018 election.  Its subject: “An initiative to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law.”  The required number of signatures to begin the process were collected and submitted to the Secretary of State, who referred the initiative to the Attorney General for writing the ballot title.  However, the Attorney General declined to prepare a ballot title, and thus stopping that initiative.


On May 1, 2017, OFIR announced the launching of a new initiative, initiative petition 22 – Stop Oregon Sanctuaries – to be placed on the November 2018 statewide election ballot.  Official sponsors of the petition are three Oregon State Representatives, Mike Nearman, Sal Esquivel, and Greg Barreto.  The necessary 1,000 signatures for filing a proposed initiative were submitted to the Secretary of State’s office early in June and verified on June 7.

At that point, the ballot title proposed had to be submitted to the State Attorney General who is responsible for writing the official ballot title.  The Attorney General can use the proposed title, edit it, or rewrite it entirely.  Her office did revise the proposed ballot title somewhat before making it official.  Regardless of the changes made by the Attorney General partly in response to opponents’ complaints, opponents of the initiative filed an appeal of the ballot title to the Oregon Supreme Court on Friday, July 28, nearly the last day possible for them to do so (Monday, July 31).  The Court rendered its judgment on October 6, that the Certified Ballot Title was approved without changes. 

Appeals by opponents, which can be made at two points in the prescribed process, delay movement of a petition and eat into the time proponents have for collecting signatures which must be completed very early in July before the November election.

To help citizens overcome this delaying tactic that is a great advantage to opponents, the new Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson, issued on July 13, 2017 a directive that petitioners can collect signatures during the period when the Attorney General’s approved ballot title has been challenged and is awaiting action by the Supreme Court.  So OFIR proceeded to collect signatures while the ballot title was pending before the Supreme Court.  Again, opponents worked to hamper IP 22, filing a lawsuit against Secretary Richardson’s proposed changes.  To avoid an extensive legal battle, the Secretary called upon the Legislature to enact his proposed changes into law instead of having them created by administrative directive.  The result of the lawsuit and Legislative inaction was that OFIR unjustly lost all signatures collected from June to October 6, 2017.

Now, as of March 2018, signature gathering is back on track, continuing apace, and we are optimistic that the required number for getting petition IP 22 on the November ballot will be obtained.  The magic number is 88,184 valid signatures of Oregon registered voters. We urge everyone who can help with signature gathering to do so.