The sheriffs of Umatilla and Morrow counties joined 14 others in Oregon urging voters to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law.
Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan and Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack added their names to Clatsop County Sheriff Tomas Bergin’s letter Monday asking voters to mark “yes” on Ballot Measure 105 in November to end Oregon Revised Statute 181A.820, which forbids state and local enforcement agencies from using their resources to find or apprehend anyone whose only violation is being in the county in violation of federal immigration laws.
Rowan said he signed the letter because this issue is about focusing on the people in the county illegally who are criminals.
“If a person is illegally here, I’m not even worried about that,” he said. “But what I am worried about are those who are here illegally and who commit local crimes. ... That is the population that we’re trying to get at.”
Umatilla County has not had an uptick in crime from illegal immigrants, Rowan said, but there are people here illegally who commit crimes. Letting local law enforcement communicate and work with federal agencies “just makes sense,” he said, and Oregonians have the right to vote on repealing the sanctuary law.
“This is about the rule of law,” he said, and law enforcement should be able to communicate with fellow agencies, no matter their level of government, from local to federal. Fighting crime, he said, is apolitical.
Erin McKee is co-director of the Immigrant Rights Project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center. She issued a statement Monday asserting Oregon’s 30-year-old sanctuary law has benefited public safety and prevented racial profiling. McKee called Bergin’s letter “tired, fear-mongering rhetoric that misleads the public on how the law works.”
Bergin perpetuates “the myth of the criminal immigrant,” McKee wrote.
“Studies have shown, repeatedly, that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. There is no factual basis for the assertion that a civil immigration violation leads to a life of crime.”
Nothing in the sanctuary statute prevents local law enforcement from pursuing immigrants who commit crimes, according to McKee, but passing the ballot measure will lead to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deporting noncitizens who called the police for help. She stated the letter is “nothing short of open hostility towards communities of color, immigrants, and non-citizens,” and Oregonians “should reject such fear based rhetoric and myths, and support policies grounded in facts, dignity, and compassion.”
Rowan said he spoke with a number of community groups about the need to repeal the sanctuary law, including some from the Hispanic populace. Rowan said those groups agree law enforcement needs to deal with people who don’t obey the law. He stressed repealing the law was not about Latinos but freeing local law enforcement to work with federal partners. That’s no different, he said, than the sheriff’s office sharing information with city police departments.
“If we can’t use every tool available to us,” he said, “we’re just swimming upstream all the time.”
The East Oregonian tried to reach Sheriff Matlack, but he didn’t return a call before deadline Monday.
Oregon has 36 counties, so 20 sheriffs did not sign the letter. The 16 who did are Bergin (Clatsop), Craig Zanni (Coos), John Ward (Curry), Shane Nelson (Deschutes), John Hanlin (Douglas), Glenn Palmer (Grant), Gary Bettencourt (Gilliam), Dave Ward (Harney), Chris Kaber (Klamath), Mike Taylor (Lake), Brian Wolfe (Malheur), Matlack (Morrow), Brad Lohrey (Sherman), Rowan (Umatilla), Boyd Rasmussen (Union) and Chris Humphrey (Wheeler).