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In Immigration Vote, Oregon Keeps Sanctuary Law

Oregon voters were the first to directly weigh in on immigration during the Trump era.

CORRECTION Oregon Ballot Measures
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, with members of Oregonians United Against Profiling, during a press conference to speak against Measure 105.
(AP/Anna Spoerre)
For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

For the first time since President Donald Trump's election, voters on Tuesday directly weighed in on immigration policy. They soundly rejected Measure 105, which would have overturned Oregon’s so-called sanctuary state law.

The measure would have removed protections for the undocumented at a time when Trump has made opposition to immigration central to his agenda. It failed 62 percent to 37 percent, with 82 percent of votes reporting. 

Ahead of Tuesday's vote, “No on 105” spokesman Peter Zuckerman said, “We need to win this campaign -- and win it big -- so we don't see similar measures like it popping up [across] the country. ... By voting no, we can show that Oregon wants no part in the immigration policies of [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump.” 

The victory for immigration advocates is a contrast to four years ago, when undocumented immigrants in Oregon suffered a crushing defeat. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a statewide ballot measure that would have allowed them to legally drive.

Anti-immigration advocates cite crime as a top reason for being against sanctuary laws, but there is substantial evidence that undocumented immigrants are no more criminal -- and indeed may be less criminal -- than native-born Americans.

The law enforcement community, which is most affected by this law aside from immigrants, was divided on the issue. 

Sheriffs who backed repealing the sanctuary law argued it "undermines respect for law in significant ways." In a recent public letter, they wrote that the law "tells illegal immigrants that Oregon considers immigration law violations so inconsequential as to be unworthy of police and sheriffs’ attention. In doing so, it legitimizes those violations and encourages more.”

But others argued that repealing the law could have bred fear among immigrants and prevented them from reporting crimes.

“Trust is the foundation of good policing,” Andrea Williams, another spokesperson for “No on 105” and the executive director of the immigrant rights group Causa, told a local TV station. “When local law enforcement plays the role of federal immigration, immigrants become too scared to come forward to ask for help from the police when they’ve been victimized, or to share critical information to help solve cases when they’ve witnessed a crime themselves.” 

Williams also argued that repealing the sanctuary law could harm people who everyone agrees have the right to be in Oregon.

“It’s about whether or not we’re going to be a state where people who are brown, like me, could be stopped by police for no other reason than we’re thought to be an undocumented immigrant," she said.

Oregon's sanctuary law is the oldest of its kind and has been in place since the late 1980s. Until recently, it attracted little controversy.

For her part, Gov. Kate Brown, the Democratic incumbent who won reelection on Tuesday, defended the law. She argued at a press conference in July that the state’s efforts to prohibit racial profiling “have been effective” and that nothing about its sanctuary status prevents law enforcement from policing criminal behavior. 

Several other states have similar laws. After California passed a sanctuary law last year, the Trump administration sued to block it. But in July, a federal court largely dismissed the lawsuit.

For resulfs of the most important ballot measures, click here.

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