Morrow County is almost 2,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. But its sheriff has taken a vocal stance against illegal immigration, and will be traveling to Washington, D.C., this month to discuss it with the President, and 40 other sheriffs nationwide.
Sheriff Ken Matlack sent out a letter Friday morning to several media outlets, stating that he will be traveling to the nation’s capitol on Sept. 5 and 6 for a meeting called the “White House Nationwide Sheriffs Fly-In.”
Matlack states in the letter that the White House has invited sheriffs from each state to talk about their experiences on issues of immigration and the impact it has had on their communities.
He said President Donald Trump is expected to host the group.
Matlack said he’s not exactly sure what conclusions the group will reach at the meeting.
“I don’t know what direction other people will be taking,” he said. But he said he hopes to discuss potential solutions to what he believes is a major problem.
“Perhaps (Trump) may hear a few new ideas on working to repair our broken immigration system,” he said.
Matlack said they intend to tell Congress that their failure to deal with immigration for 20 years has compromised the safety of local communities.
“We will also take the opportunity to express and thank President Trump and his administration for re-establishing law enforcement’s footing to enforce our laws.”
Matlack has been open in his opposition to illegal immigration, and has made several trips to the border. He said despite Morrow County’s distance, it has experienced many of the problems that he says start at the border.
“Mexican cartels make millions of dollars,” he said. “When we got rid of ephedrine, Umatilla County was the largest producer of meth per capita. When they got rid of it, you couldn’t fill up your cart with ephedrine anymore. When that changed, Mexicans came in and brought their own product from Mexico.”
Matlack said he doesn’t have a specific sense of crime committed by illegal immigrants in Morrow County, because they don’t track them. Nor, he said, does he feel that illegal immigrants commit crime at a higher rate in the county than legal residents.
“I wouldn’t say we have a rampant crime problem,” he said. “The illegal aliens I personally know are some of the hardest working people I know. They contribute in their life’s work and produce value.”
He said he supports finding a path to citizenship for them.
“However, I’m a law-and-order kind of guy,” he said. “It’s against the law for (undocumented immigrants) to be here.”
He said he’s also against sanctuary states, and is one of 16 Oregon sheriffs that recently signed a letter asking voters to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law.
Matlack said he is opposed to the idea of an open border.
“I don’t think open borders will ever work,” he said. “There’s too many bad people coming in. I’ve been down to see what they do — rob, rape and murder.”
He added that the concerns are not just people coming in from Mexico.
“There’s literature from Middle Eastern countries, all kinds of people coming in,” he said.
Matlack called the current U.S. immigration system “broken.”
“My belief is that you’re not going to deport 12 million people,” he said. He said while people who came to the U.S. illegally are at fault, politicians bear some of the blame too.
“Who should have done something? Our own government,” he said.
Matlack’s trip is funded by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). He said he was first approached by the group many years ago. He said there was a conference in Las Vegas for border sheriffs to discuss the problems they were having with illegal immigration.
“They called up and tried to find Oregon sheriffs willing to come to this meeting,” he said.
Matlack said the group had trouble finding sheriffs willing to participate.
“It’s a political thing,” he said. “FAIR is a conservative group.”
On its website, FAIR states that it looks to reduce overall immigration to a “more normal level.” It says that it hopes to bring the number of immigrants coming into the U.S. annually from one million to 300,000 a year.
The group is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors hate and extremist groups in the U.S., as a hate group.
Matlack said he disagrees with that designation.
“They’re not a hate group,” he said. “They’re much like the people in Texas I worked with on task forces.”
Jonathan Shaklee, an immigration attorney in Kennewick, said statistically, undocumented immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes than natural-born citizens.
Furthermore, he said, most immigrants want to have a good relationship with law enforcement, especially because those populations are often victimized themselves.
“Local Latino communities don’t want criminals in their communities either,” he said. “But if they’re afraid to talk to law enforcement, they’ll continue to be victimized.”
Shaklee said the fear of going to law enforcement is counterproductive for both groups.
“I don’t think that serves the interest of law enforcement, and it puts the entire community at further risk.”
Matlack’s trip will include a press conference on Capitol Hill, followed by a roundtable discussion at the White House.