Jeff Sessions to Oregon: State’s ‘sanctuary’ policies ‘endanger us all’

Article author: 
Saul Hubbard
Article publisher: 
The Register-Guard
Article date: 
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

PORTLAND — In a speech to federal law enforcement officers, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday urged Oregon politicians to reconsider the state’s “sanctuary” law.

Sessions pointed to a slew of high-profile crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants in Oregon and nationwide as he tried to make the case that the 1987 state law makes Oregonians less safe.

“The problem is that the (sanctuary) policies tie your hands,” he told the law enforcement officials and other federal workers. “Sanctuary policies endanger us all.”

Sessions’ 20-minute address at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in north Portland, in a room normally used for immigrant naturalization ceremonies, contained few surprises.

The Trump administration all year has been pressuring sanctuary cities and states to enforce federal immigration laws or lose federal funding.

Oregon’s leaders have staunchly resisted those efforts, however, though an effort is underway to ask voters to repeal the sanctuary law next November.

Oregon’s law limits communications and information sharing between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials, allegedly making it tougher for federal authorities to apprehend Oregon residents for immigration law violations.

But the state law gives local police some wiggle room. Lane County, for example, provides more information to federal officials about foreign-born jail inmates than Multnomah County provides about its jail population.

The federal government has said it typically wants local police to detain unauthorized immigrants until federal officials can arrive to take them into custody. Oregon law doesn’t allow that level of cooperation.

A crowd of protesters arrived several hours before Sessions. They held signs and led derogatory chants about the attorney general in a corralled area a fair distance away from the immigration office building. Their raucous chants could be heard, faintly, during the attorney general’s address.

Democrats also pushed back on Sessions’ message.

In a public letter, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler accused the Trump Administration of trying to “coerce local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws.”

“In Portland, we do not merely tolerate diversity, we celebrate it,” he wrote.

Sessions suffered a defeat last week when a federal judge in Illinois temporarily blocked his efforts to withhold federal money for police from sanctuary cities.

The judge agreed with the city of Chicago’s argument that the attorney general doesn’t have the authority to add new conditions for local government to receive grants.

Sessions didn’t mention that ruling on Tuesday, but he did try to refute a common argument in favor of sanctuary policies: that they allow unauthorized immigrants to report crimes to local police without fear of local police then alerting federal immigration authorities who would deport those immigrants.

“That does not make sense to me,” Sessions said Tuesday. “Would releasing someone who had been arrested 10 times this year into your community give you more confidence in law enforcement?” Critics of sanctuary laws say the laws allow repeat offenders of local or state laws to remain at liberty in the United States, even though those people could be deported because of their illegal immigration status.

Sessions referred to an Oregon case involving Sergio Martinez, an unauthorized immigrant who had been deported 20 times. Martinez allegedly committed several crimes after the Multnomah County jail released him late last year.

Federal officials, including acting U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, are upset that Multnomah County didn’t honor a federal “detainer” request to keep Martinez in jail until federal officials could pick him up.

But sheriffs in Oregon say the state’s 1987 sanctuary law and court rulings prevent them from complying with federal detainer requests or providing any form of assistance or support to federal immigration enforcement officials.

“Political leaders have directed state and local officers to refuse these (detainer) requests,” Sessions said. “Cooperation has been a key element in informed crime fighting for decades.”

Similar conflicts between local and federal law enforcement agencies are playing out across the nation.

However, Oregon sheriffs have some leeway in how they choose to interpret and implement the state’s sanctuary law.

In Lane County, jail booking information for everyone, including foreign-born inmates, is entered into a state database that federal immigration officials can access.

If requested, the county will call federal authorities to give them 30 minutes notice before an inmate they’ve asked to track is released from jail, according to Carrie Carver, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

That is somewhat similar to a crime victim notification system that exists, under which the general public can sign up to monitor specific inmates.

Lane County also allows federal ICE officers into the jail’s “pre-booking” area to potentially pick inmates up. The general public cannot access those areas.

Conversely, Multnomah County earlier this year clarified that their policy allows deputies to provide no more information and no more access to county facilities than what the county provides to the general public.