Oregonians are about to find out how much the state’s voters support President Donald Trump.
Trump’s election, alleged misconduct toward women and immigration crackdown have all sparked protests in Portland.
But he also won in 28 of the state’s 36 counties in 2016, and a recent poll commissioned by Oregon Public Broadcasting found the president’s approval rating in Oregon increased five percentage points since January. Hillary Clinton won the state by landing the most populous counties.
It’s in that context that Oregon voters are now deciding whether to repeal the state’s 31-year-old sanctuary law, which forbids law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or apprehending them unless the person is suspected of a criminal offense. State lawmakers from both parties passed the law in 1987 in response to reports of racial profiling by local police.
Opponents of the repeal have far outraised and outspent its supporters. The pro-repeal campaign reported raising nearly $50,000 as of Monday and spending $45,000. In contrast, the pro-sanctuary law campaign has reported raising $2 million and spending nearly $1.3 million. The OPB poll found the outlook for Measure 105 is not good, with 32 percent of respondents saying they supported the measure and 45 percent opposed.
The group behind the repeal effort, Oregonians for Immigration Reform, has been around since 2000. In the years since, it has worked on a variety of legislation and ballot initiatives to make it more difficult for unauthorized immigrants to live and work in Oregon. Overturning the sanctuary state law wasn’t on the group’s radar until Trump’s 2016 presidential run, according to the group’s president, Cynthia Kendoll.
“With the election of Trump … state and local governments that don’t agree with his policies have started putting up walls and saying, ‘We don’t have to comply with your policies,'” Kendoll said on Tuesday. “We started poking around and found that Oregon has its very own sanctuary state law, and in fact was the very first sanctuary state in the country.”
A leader of one of the organizations fighting the repeal agrees that Trump’s anti-immigration stance is the reason voters are being asked to overturn the sanctuary law this year.
“We’ve had this law for 30 years and they’ve been around for two decades and not a peep from them until now on this,” said Andrea Williams, executive director of the immigrant rights organization Causa. “I think they believe in Trump’s agenda … that does not accept immigrants in our country and that we shouldn’t be a beacon of hope for people all over the world.”
Supporters of repealing the sanctuary state law point to reports of violent crime, both in Oregon and other states, committed by people in the country illegally who had previous run-ins with law enforcement.
The case of Sergio Jose Martinez, who assaulted two women in Portland in July 2017, drew national attention because he had been released from the Multnomah County jail seven months earlier despite U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials lodging a civil immigration detainer against him. Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese faulted federal immigration officials because they did not provide the criminal arrest warrant he needed to detain Martinez.
Oregonians for Immigration Reform started working on the sanctuary state repeal initiative months earlier, in April 2017. Kendoll’s interest in eliminating the law dates back even earlier, to August 2016, when she issued a Trump-inspired call for the Oregon Legislature to repeal it in an editorial in The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“As a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I listened to heartrending speeches by parents of Americans murdered by illegal immigrants,” Kendoll wrote. “And I heard Donald Trump promise, if elected, to protect his fellow citizens from illegal-immigrant crime via a restored, robust enforcement of immigration law.”
“Illegal-immigrant crime is preventable — by keeping illegal immigrants from our state in the first place,” Kendoll wrote.
But the founders of Oregonians for Immigration Reform view immigration, both legal and illegal, as a major cause of societal problems in the U.S.
“Public conversation is all about rising costs of land, housing, schools and education, overcrowded roads, traffic congestion, large numbers of destitute citizens living on the streets,” co-founder Elizabeth van Staaveren of McMinnville wrote in a June editorial in the Forest Grove News-Times. “These problems are mainly caused by overpopulation due to excessive immigration.”
State economist Josh Lehner said U.S. Census data doesn’t back up the idea that international immigration is driving Oregon’s population growth. “The vast majority are what you’d call domestic migrants,” Lehner said, referring to people moving here from Colorado, California and other states.
The last time Oregonians for Immigration Reform referred a law to voters was November 2014, when it asked them to overturn a law that would have allowed the state to provide driver’s cards to people without proof of U.S. citizenship. Voters agreed with the group, overturning the driver’s card statute by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio.
— Hillary Borrud
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