Oregon sanctuary law: 16 sheriffs urge support for repeal effort

August 27, 2018

Hillary Borrud

Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin speaks at a February 2016 press conference about the shooting of Phillip Ferry, who fatally shot Sgt. Jason Goodding. Bergin is among 12 sheriffs who support repealing Oregon's sanctuary state law. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff | The Oregonian/OregonLive)

Updated at 3:20 p.m.

Sheriffs in more than a third of Oregon's counties are calling for voters to support an initiative on the November ballot that would repeal a 30-year-old sanctuary state law.

Clatsop County Sheriff Thomas Bergin issued the letter Monday morning, signing it along with 15 other sheriffs from rural counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon.

Sheriffs from Coos, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union and Wheeler counties also signed the letter. Their support for the anti-sanctuary law initiative, Measure 105, is not surprising given that 28 of Oregon's 36 counties voted for Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Trump has taken a hard line against all forms of immigration, including his short-lived "zero tolerance" policy that called for separating migrant families.

His Democratic rival Hillary Clinton still won Oregon, where most voters live in a handful of urban counties. One is Multnomah County, where Sheriff Mike Reese has implemented one of the most liberal interpretations of Oregon's sanctuary state law.

Clatsop County, where Bergin is sheriff, is actually the only county represented by sheriffs who signed the letter that supported Clinton in 2016.

"Certainly, immigration-law violations are federal offenses," Bergin wrote. "But they are precursors to other crimes illegal immigrants routinely commit in their efforts to conceal their illegal presence – crimes, like identity theft, that harm everyday Oregonians at every level."

The letter drew a swift response from the Oregon Justice Resource Center. Erin McKee, co-director of the civil rights group's Immigrant Rights Project, says it's troubling that "elected officials continue to perpetuate the myth of the criminal immigrant.

"Studies have shown, repeatedly, that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens." McKee said in a news release. "There is no factual basis for the assertion that a civil immigration violation leads to a life of crime. Sheriff Bergin's statement not only ignores facts and statistics, but it also relies on tired, fear-mongering rhetoric that misleads the public on how the law works."

Republican Knute Buehler says he'll vote to repeal Oregon's sanctuary law

Oregon's 1987 sanctuary law prohibits state and local law enforcement from using public resources to arrest people whose only violation of the law is being in the country illegally. Simply being in the country without authorization, such as overstaying a visa, is a civil offense rather than a crime. Crossing the border illegally is a federal misdemeanor the first time; it is a felony under federal law for someone who was deported to return to the U.S. without authorization.

Read the letter here.