Oregon law stops local police from assisting ICE agents

Letter date: 
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Letter publisher: 
Letter author: 
John Bishop
Letter body: 

We must maintain the trust of all residents so they too feel free to report crimes.

Recently, questions have been raised about why the U.S. attorney general portrayed Oregon law enforcement as unwilling to help Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) enforce immigration law.

Three separate issues limit the ability of Oregon law enforcement officers to cooperate with federal immigration officers. All of these issues are completely outside the control of law enforcement; two are statutory restrictions enacted by the Oregon Legislature, and the other is a result of a federal court decision.

In 1987, the Oregon Legislature passed ORS 181A.820, specifically prohibiting local police from using any agency money, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending people whose only violation is being in the country illegally. This law makes it clear that Oregon officers cannot get involved in immigration enforcement, although it does allow sharing information with ICE if a person is arrested on criminal charges.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and the governor signed HB 3464 into law, which further prevents Oregon law enforcement agencies from sharing certain information with ICE. This law allows police to share the name of the person in custody, but we cannot share the person's address, associates, work or school information, contact information, or the times of their court hearings in some cases.

The final limitation is the opinion of the federal court in the Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County case. The court found that keeping Maria Miranda-Olivares in custody solely on the basis of an ICE detainer violated her constitutional rights. The county paid her more than $30,000 for holding her 19 hours past her release time.

Recently, another issue emerged that could potentially effect federal grants used to help fund local law enforcement programs. There are now federal demands to certify compliance with federal law in order to obtain these grants. These demands already have resulted in litigation, City of Chicago v. Sessions.

Significant uncertainty exists about whether we can comply with this federal law, (specifically 8 USC 1373), which prohibits any state or local prohibitions or restrictions on sending or receiving information from ICE regarding the citizenship or immigration status of a person.

The state doesn't believe that Oregon law violates federal law. It is unclear how the federal government will view HB 3464, and law enforcement is stuck in the middle between state and federal law. The Oregon State Sheriffs' Association has put this question to the U.S. Attorney's Office and is awaiting an answer.

Oregon law enforcement leaders are in a very difficult position. We must maintain the trust of all community members so they too feel free to report crimes, appear at court hearings, and understand Oregon officers do not enforce federal immigration law. That had been the case since 1987 — we were restricted from actively assisting ICE, but we were free to provide them the information they needed to carry out their mission.

That delicate neutrality has been destroyed by increasing tension and conflict between the state and federal law and administrations. The unwillingness of Washington, D.C., to acknowledge cases like Miranda-Olivares puts Oregon law enforcement agencies at risk.

Our national leaders' unwillingness to fix an immigration system that has been broken for decades is incredibly disappointing. The enactment of HB 3464, which requires Oregon law enforcement to deny information to ICE that any other person could lawfully obtain, further complicates our work, and the resulting restrictions on public safety grant funding reduces public safety.

The political rhetoric around immigration has some of our communities questioning whether they can trust their local law enforcement.

The immigration issues facing Oregon law enforcement are complex, challenging, and unlikely to be resolved quickly. In the meantime, your Oregon sheriffs will uphold the law, keep the lines of communication with both state and federal partners open, and focus on keeping our communities safe.

John Bishop is director of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association. He served as sheriff of Curry County from 2008 to 2014. He can be reached at bishop@oregonsheriffs.org.