POLK COUNTY — Voters will decide in November whether or not to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary state law.
The law, which was passed in 1987, prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources to enforce federal immigration laws.
The bill had bipartisan support and was passed by the House 54-3. It passed the Senate 29-1.
Measure 105 seeks to repeal it. The measure is sponsored by Republican representatives Mike Nearman, of Independence, Greg Barreto of Cove and Sal Esquivel, of Medford.
Esquivel said he resents it when people say the repeal effort is racially motivated.
What it is about, is that law enforcement should have the ability to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they arrest someone, he said.
Esquivel is half Mexican. His father came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1945.
“He wanted to be an American,” Esquivel said.
It took Esquivel’s father 14 years to become a citizen legally.
People who come to the U.S. illegally commit more than one crime, Esquivel said.
It is a misdemeanor when they cross the border, he said. If they work and pay taxes, that means they must have stolen someone else’s identity, which is against the law. And if they are driving, without a license, without insurance, they are breaking the law, he said.
Nearman declined to speak to an Itemizer-Observer reporter about the measure.
Sixteen of Oregon’s 36 sheriffs signed a letter in support of Measure 105.
Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton was not one of them.
“I see and understand both sides of the argument,” Garton said. “In my position, I enforce the laws of our state and in this case having (Measure 105) go to a vote of the people is a good thing.”
Garton was still evaluating information regarding the issue when he was presented with the opportunity to sign the letter of support, he said.
“We are affected by this more often in our jail then on patrol,” Garton said of the sanctuary law. “Overall, the affect is minimal.”
When someone is taken to the Polk County Jail on a local charge, he or she is processed and booked, he said.
“Part of that process is checking fingerprints, taking photos and asking personal information,” Garton said. “We don’t ask whether or not someone is here legally or illegally. We run a criminal history check and check their fingerprints against a national database.”
Sometimes the criminal history check will indicate previous deportations, he said.
“It’s only then will we notify (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that we potentially have someone that could be here illegally,” Garton said. “That ends our interaction with ICE, unless they provide a detainer signed by a magistrate, but the key is the onus is on ICE to do any further investigation or confirmation of that person’s immigration status.”
Garton said a person will only be held in Polk County Jail on local charges “and won’t ever be in the jail solely on immigration charges and we don’t determine whether or not someone is illegal or not, that is the job of ICE.”
Deputies don’t arrest anyone for federal crimes, including immigration issues, he said.
“We don’t, nor should we, inquire about someone’s legal status while we are investigating a crime on the street,” Garton said. “Someone’s status makes no difference to us, as we are there to enforce the law and to protect people.”
PCSO deputies will not start asking for peoples’ immigration status if Measure 105 passes and Oregon’s sanctuary state law is repealed, he said.
“Some say that will happen, but that is ridiculous and insulting to our integrity,” Garton said. “This office displays professionalism and compassion on a daily basis to everyone. Some say this will promote more profiling, but again, this isn’t the case either. We train regularly on anti-profiling and we don’t allow it, period, regardless of this law or not. Again, being illegally in this country is a federal crime and local law enforcement is not able to arrest on federal crimes.”
Garton said if the law is repealed, they “may be more freely able to talk with ICE about people who are in custody on local charges and could potentially be in this county illegally.”
Currently, local law enforcement agencies are limited in what information they can provide to immigration officials, he said.
The sanctuary law states law information agencies may exchange information with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in order to verify immigration status if the person is arrested for any criminal offense or request criminal investigation information.
“Coupled with (HB 3464, passed in 2017), which also adds additional specific prohibitions on what we are able to talk with ICE about, it really ties our hands and we aren’t able to talk freely with ICE,” Garton said.
HB 3464 “prohibits public body from disclosing specified information concerning person unless required by state or federal law.”
It was passed along party lines with democrats voting in favor of it and republicans voting against.
Because Measure 105 will not repeal HB 3464, Garton said “we will still be limited on what we are able to talk with ICE about.”
Law’s links to Independence
One of the key sponsors of the 1987 law was former democratic Rep. Rocky Barilla who had ties to Independence.
Barilla was an attorney for Marion-Polk Legal Aid Service in the 1970s.
In 1977, Barilla was one of the attorneys who represented Delmiro Trevino and Chicano Concilio in a civil suit against employees of INS, the Independence Police Department, then IPD Chief James DeForest, then Polk County Sheriff Woody Jones and three Polk County deputies.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs claimed they “have been and will continue to be harassed, involuntarily detained, illegally searched and otherwise denied their constitutional and statuory rights solely because they are Chicano.”
Concilio was a nonprofit corporation consisting of Chicanos who were in the United States legally and “agencies, community organizations and associations which primarily serve Chicanos who are United States citizens or lawful permanent resident aliens,” according to court documents.
Court documents state Trevino claimed that on Jan. 9, 1977, at approximately 1 a.m., he entered the Hi-Ho Restaurant in Independence. He said an IPD officer and three deputies approached him and three other Chicanos he was seated with.
One of the deputies “grabbed him by the arm, forcing him to stand and interrogated (him) about his citizenship,” according to the complaint.
The officer recognized Trevino as being a “long-time resident” of Independence and he was released, the document states.
He was later interrogated at his father-in-law’s house, where he showed his driver’s license and was released, according to court documents.
The Concilio claimed the defendants and members of other local law enforcement agencies in Oregon “engaged in a pattern and practice of stopping, detaining, interrogating, searching and harassing members of (Concilio) solely on the basis of their race and the color of their skin.”
The case was eventually dismissed.
Separate from the lawsuit, there were public discussions about the issue.
The Independence Enterprise newspaper wrote about a meeting held in Independence in February 1977 where Mexican-Americans voiced concerns about several instances where officers allegedly stopped them and asked for ID. They spoke specifically about a “period of about one week” in which deputies arrested 19 people who were in the U.S. Illegally.
In a February 1977 article, Jones said his deputies were involved in the arrests of several “aliens” but they followed standard procedure during the raids. He also noted that his deputies always contacted INS before detaining anyone in the U.S. Illegally.
“The reason for that is simple,” Jones said at the time. “Once before after we had rounded up 15 or 16 Mexicans, we called INS to come pick them up for transportation. But INS told us they didn’t have the money to transport them to Mexico and that we’d have to keep them.”
He said after that they called every time to make sure the sheriff’s office wasn’t going to “get stuck” with the housing and feeding costs.
In March, the Sun-Enterprise reported on a meeting led by Frank Kennard, a Spanish-speaking priest from Dallas. During the meeting, Tito Aguirre suggested forming a human rights council to represent the Latin American community, “directed toward establishing clarification of the immigration-alien laws and rights.”