COOS COUNTY — Since President Donald Trump signed executive orders denying federal funding to go to sanctuary cities or states, local government leaders have taken a stand of defiance, including in Oregon.
Gov. Kate Brown held a press conference on Thursday to discuss Oregon's sanctuary status, declaring that “By federal law, I am standing up for what we believe in. I stand ready to protect our rights and way of life.”
In fact, sanctuary status comes from local law enforcement following state and federal constitutional law. To clear up the confusion for what many mistakenly think are “rebel cities and counties,” Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni broke it down.
“In the past we had people picked up who were illegal, and we would receive an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainer request, then seen as a formal request from a government agency, to hold that person in jail,” Zanni said.
However, in 2014 Oregon sheriff's were jolted to the realization that doing so breaks civil and human rights because the ICE request was not actually lawful.
“In Columbia County, there was an individual convicted of a crime who fell in their county jail,” he said. “The office received one of those ICE detainer requests, so they held the individual after their sentence was up, but ICE didn't come and get them. The individual sued the county for unlawfully detaining them for $300,000 and won.”
During the lawsuit, ICE refused to support the sheriff's department.
“They discovered a detainer request is not an order, but just a request,” Zanni said. “The sheriff thought he had been on good ground.”
The Oregon Sheriff's Association then asked the attorney general what should be done in the future since ICE wouldn't stand behind the detainer requests once dragged to court. It was decided that unless the ICE requests are signed by a magistrate, essentially making them warrants for arrest, they should be ignored.
“We don't want to get sued and have citizen's pay money for us violating their own law,” Zanni said. “We cooperate with ICE when we receive a detainer signed by a magistrate, but not otherwise. We simply can't hold someone without lawful authority to do so, and it's just that simple. We aren't a sanctuary county or state because someone declared it. We are by default because we're following the law.”
During the press conference, Gov. Brown described two Japanese immigrants who moved to Oregon with nine children. One of the sons later graduated and became the first Japanese-American to join the Oregon Bar Association. After Pearl Harbor, when a curfew was mandated for all Japanese-Americans, this man understood that his civil rights were being violated and broke that curfew in protest.
He was arrested and detained in Idaho for the duration of the war, but was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama, making him the first and only Oregon citizen to receive the honor.
“That story becomes more relevant every single day,” Brown said. “I am guided by his words. If we believe in law and justice, if we see errors being made, we have an obligation to correct them.”
Since Trump's immigration ban, Brown learned of an infant in one of the seven banned countries that was scheduled to come to Oregon and visit one of the hospitals for life-saving treatment.
“I'm just hearing reports that this infant was prevented from coming to the United States,” she said.
As she fights to bring the child here, “In Oregon, we will not retreat. As governor, my duty is to uphold human and civil rights to anyone who calls this state home.”
During the press conference, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, former Portland police chief, said that immigrants and citizens should not be afraid of law enforcement in light of Trump's executive orders.
“We want people feeling comfortable enough to call 911 without fear of law enforcement supporting ICE detainers,” he said. “When people trust in us, they share information that keeps us all safer. We want to support the law.”
Zanni said that the bottom line is that law enforcement will try to work with ICE, but ultimately doesn't have authority under Oregon law to do immigration enforcement.
“If an illegal immigrant has committed a crime, we arrest them and notify ICE,” he said. “To be blunt, we were asked if we would honor a detainer request, and we said if it was signed by a magistrate we would. Their response was getting it signed is a lot of work. I said no, it's not, we do it everyday for warrants. If one of my people arrested someone this afternoon, they take them to the jail and fill out a probable cause statement that will be reviewed by a judge in the morning. If there isn't probable cause, that person goes out the door. That's constitutional. We do it every day and I don't know why on the federal level they think it's such a big deal.”
The Oregon Sheriff's Association has also published a response to the Trump's executive order on the immigration ban:
“The immediate changes to police practices are unlikely,” it said. “All Oregon police are prohibited by state statute from spending public dollars, resources, and personnel to locate and arrest a person whose only violation of the law is they are in a country in violation of federal immigration law.”
Zanni explained that statute has been in place since 1987, and unless state legislature changes that, “we can't act as immigration enforcement.”
Coos County Sheriff's Office Capt. Pat Downing expressed his concern over the executive order threatening to withdraw federal dollars to municipalities considered “sanctuary.”
“We have probably close to a million dollars that we use on a regular basis,” he said. “We would have to turn that back and discontinue some of our programs, and that would impact us considerably. Somewhere down the road the federal government and the state of Oregon will have to make a decision on where Oregon stands.”
Because new policies coming from the White House aren't in tune with Oregon laws and culture, Brown signed three executive orders on Thursday to preserve the safety of the state's status quo.
The first of three was to commit to “being a welcoming and accepting” state, calling on Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to oppose immigrant measures.
“I'm concerned this was made to discriminate against Muslims,” Brown said.
The second was an order to protect immigrants, refugees, and to protect religious rights.
“State workers should work while mindful of this,” she said. “State agencies shouldn't discriminate.”
The third order forbids state workers and all of Oregon from participating in the Muslim Registry. Though the Muslim Registry hasn't been formed, Brown explained that enough rumors from the nation's capitol have convinced local government that it will be established in the next few weeks.
“I will follow federal and state law, and that doesn't put federal funding at risk at this time,” Brown said. “I'm willing to do what's right to protect our culture, our people, and our economy. Under current law, we cannot treat illegals as criminals. Folks can't be singled out or treated differently based on immigration status.”
Multnomah County's Judge Nan Waller spoke following Brown, expressing concerns about ICE cultivating an atmosphere of fear around courthouses.
“We have grave concerns,” she said. “A strong community requires a strong judicial system, and we have received calls from members of the community because people are afraid to come to the courts. They shouldn't be afraid. We urge ICE to be sensitive to courthouse locations so arrests won't take place there. We want to maintain public confidence.”
To Coos County residents, Zanni said that the law will be followed.
“We're doing what we are required and allowed to do under the law,” he said. “We are a state and county that complies to state and federal constitutions. In the past, when Immigration failed to do its part, it's not something we should be on the hook for in their behalf. It's a change of policy at the federal level that is needed. If people have concerns about the law, they need to talk to state and federal representatives.”
At this week's press conference Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss said that Oregon's legal strategy to combat these concerns will be announced next week.
“The federal agencies aren't meeting requirements, that's where the problem is,” Zanni said. “We're supposed to be a nation of laws. This is what happens when we don't follow our own rules."