Multnomah County commissioners weigh in on federal immigration policy
Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 8:25 PM
By Beth Slovic, The Oregonian
Brian Feulner/The Oregonian Hector Cervantes, 15, holds up an immigration reform sign at a recent rally where hundreds showed up at the Capitol to support immigrant causes.
Multnomah County commissioners will enter the nationwide controversy over illegal immigration Thursday, with a public hearing and vote on a resolution that takes a stand against, among other things, deporting people from jails who have not been convicted of a crime.
The resolution also raises concerns about breaking up families, eroding trust with immigrant communities and the implementation — scheduled for April — of a federal system to prioritize immigration cases against convicted criminals, as outlined a year ago.
“We have families being torn apart,” said Marissa Madrigal, chief of staff to County Chairman Jeff Cogen. “We can’t control the federal government, but we can take a stand and say, ‘Do what you said you were going to do.'”
It’s unclear how much practical effect the resolution would have. A representative of an Oregon group that opposes illegal immigration criticized the resolution, while a network of civil liberties, labor and other groups praised it and pledged to spread the idea to other Oregon counties. Officials in Washington and Clackamas counties said there is no talk of following suit, however, at least not yet.
“Multnomah County is breaking ground in Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest,” said Francisco Lopez, executive director of CAUSA Oregon, a pro-immigrant group. “ICE is making our streets unsafe.”
Multnomah County may be the first Oregon county to stake a position, but it is far from the first government to weigh in on illegal immigration. Some jurisdictions — the state of Arizona is the best-known example — have sought to help federal efforts to identify and deport undocumented residents.
On the other side, Portland and many other U.S. cities such as New York and San Francisco have declared themselves “sanctuary cities,” enacting policies that prevent police officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Portland also developed a reputation for bucking federal priorities when it delayed rejoining the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
In 2010, the Portland City Council joined officials from other governments in opposing Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. More recently, some Portland residents fought plans for a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, with detention space, in the South Waterfront neighborhood. Those plans were recently approved.
In their resolution, county commissioners list “deep concern” over the federal Secure Communities Program, which gives ICE access to jailhouse fingerprints, leading to the possible deportation of people booked into county jails but not convicted of a crime. Commissioners object to the use of county resources in the process, and cite safety and trust concerns.
Commissioners call on ICE to tell the public how many people it has deported, or is in the process of deporting, under the program — including minors and people leaving children behind.
The resolution also takes issue with a program called Enforce, to take effect next month, that seeks to bring conformity to detention and deportation decisions. Commissioners say it’s unclear how the program will work here.
CAUSA and civil liberties activists support the resolution, arguing that policies that create fear among immigrants deter them from reporting crimes, eroding safety for everyone.
Immigrants themselves need security, said Becky Straus, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
“Immigration status aside, racial identity aside, everyone deserves the protection of the (U.S.) Constitution,” Straus said.
But Jim Ludwig, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which opposes illegal immigration, railed against the proposal. He called Secure Communities a good program for excluding immigrants arrested and jailed on suspicion of having committed crimes.
Of county officials, he asked: “What type of person do they want to have here?”
Multnomah County commissioners meet at 9:30 am Thursday at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd.