After signing a letter of support for repealing Oregon’s sanctuary status, Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan explained his views on Measure 105 to Hermiston’s Hispanic Advisory Committee on Monday.
Measure 105, which will appear on November’s ballot statewide, would repeal an Oregon law on the books since 1987 that forbids city, county and state law enforcement agencies from using their resources for “detecting or apprehending” people whose only violation of the law is being in the country without documentation.
Rowan said he is not interested in using the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office to detain people based solely on their immigration status. But he told the audience of about 30 people that he believes repeal of Oregon’s sanctuary law would allow law enforcement to communicate and coordinate with federal immigration officials about dangerous criminals who commit crimes such as murder or rape.
“I’m not talking about someone here without the right papers,” he said. “If folks are coming here to make a better life for themselves I welcome them with open arms. It’s those people who are coming here with criminal intentions, that I’m focused on.”
Rowan said over the years lawsuits and court rulings relating to the 1987 sanctuary law have restricted law enforcement beyond what the original law intended. For example, he said, when an undocumented immigrant committed a violent crime, the jail or prison used to let immigration officials know when the inmate was being released so that they could pick the person up and start deportation proceedings immediately. That doesn’t happen anymore, he said, because law enforcement agencies live in fear of large civil penalties that some agencies have experienced in the past when cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He said he had no intention of sending deputies to help with ICE raids, or asking victims about their immigration status or reporting hard working people who are obeying the law other than their documentation.
But audience members at the Hispanic Advisory Committee meeting told Rowan that even if he felt that way, he couldn’t guarantee other sheriffs and police chiefs wouldn’t try to find otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants and get them deported.
“How are you sure others won’t do that if passed, even if you do not?” Brenda Flores asked.
She said the measure is backed by Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for efforts to demonize immigrants and stoke fear of immigration.
She and other Latino audience members said they worried that Measure 105 would lead to racial profiling — that they could be stopped or detained by police on suspicion of being in the country illegally based on what they looked like. They pointed out that the catalyst for the law in the first place was an incident in which police officers approached U.S. citizens of Latino descent in a restaurant and began interrogating them about their legal status.
Rowan said there are “very robust” laws against profiling on the books that would still exist if Measure 105 passed. The state is requiring large law enforcement agencies to start submitting their “stop data” this year and smaller agencies next year for independent analysis by a third party looking for patterns of racial profiling. He said his door is always open if anyone has a complaint.
Virginia Rome Garcia said Rowan spoke of not going after people whose only crime was being in the country illegally, but the same people who support Measure 105 already got a referendum passed to not allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses or car insurance. She asked what Rowan planned to do about undocumented immigrants who drove to work without a license.
Rowan said that was considered an infraction, not a crime, in Oregon. He said he would support something that said local law enforcement shouldn’t contact ICE unless an incident rose to a certain level of misdemeanor. When asked how many times in a year he was seeing undocumented immigrants committing serious crimes that he wanted to work with ICE on, he said in the past year he had probably seen four cases.
Roy Barron, Hermiston’s newest city councilor, said he respected Rowan’s opinion but personally believed that if Measure 105 passes it will create more fear of law enforcement in the Latino community and that there could be unintended consequences beyond Rowan’s desire to communicate with ICE about dangerous criminals.
“It just leaves way too much gray area that I’m not comfortable with,” he said.
Kit Morgan and Rev. Charlotte Wells of Pendleton’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer both spoke out against Measure 105 at Monday’s meeting. Morgan said he agrees with critics of the measure who say it will aid criminals by making undocumented victims and witnesses of crime afraid to go to law enforcement.
Measure 105 is sponsored by three Republican members of Oregon’s legislature — Greg Barreto, who represents Pendleton’s District 58; Sal Esquivel of Medford and Mike Nearman of Independence. Sixteen of Oregon’s 36 sheriffs, including Rowan and Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack, signed a letter of support.