Bill Whitaker is a precinct committee person of the Democratic Party of Union County and an active member of Union County Progressives. All information in this comment is from ballotpedia.org, opb.org and Oregonians United Against Profiling.

Editor’s Note: The Republican writer did not submit an On The Fence piece for this week’s topic.

In November’s midterm election, 1,172,828 Oregonians demonstrated support for dignity and respect by voting decisively to defeat Oregon Measure 105, the Repeal Sanctuary State Law Initiative, 63.47 percent to 36.54 percent. Although racism persists, we have made important progress reducing racial and ethnic discrimination.

Oregon is home to thousands of immigrants and refugees who’ve been here for generations because a family member courageously immigrated to the state. Today’s immigrants join the long American tradition of coming in search of a better life and the freedom and opportunity Oregon and our nation offers.

As progressive Democrats, we believe no Oregonian, including immigrant Oregonians, should live in fear that doing everyday things like going to work, going to school or reporting crimes to the police could result in harassment or families being torn apart.

We believe dignity and respect are core Oregon values. We believe Oregon is a special place where most Oregonians cherish constitutional and human rights and value protecting those rights for everyone who calls Oregon home. We believe all Oregonians should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of where they were born.

One of the most important steps toward eliminating fear and affirming dignity and respect occurred when our Legislature, with overwhelming bipartisan support, passed Oregon’s “Sanctuary Law.” The bill passed the Oregon Senate 29 to 1 and the House 58 to 1. Gov. Goldschmidt signed it into law on July 7, 1987.

The law states: “No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency moneys, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.”

By preventing local law enforcement from using local resources to enforce federal immigration law, the law effectively established Oregon as a “sanctuary state.”

Our path toward becoming a sanctuary state began at the
Hi Ho Restaurant in Independence, Oregon, on Jan. 9, 1977. Several police officers, without warrants or identifying themselves, approached four Chicano men and began interrogating them about their citizenship status.

One grabbed Delmiro Trevino, forcing him to stand in the middle of the restaurant before other customers. Trevino, a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent, became a class action lawsuit plaintive. Ten years later, Rocky Barilla, the lawyer who brought the lawsuit on behalf of Trevino and others, was elected state representative and promoted a bill creating Oregon’s sanctuary law.

At that time, the sanctuary law wasn’t controversial. Discussing his bill with police and members of both parties, Barilla found local governments didn’t want to spend money enforcing laws they didn’t have to.

The sanctuary law has been protecting Oregonians from unfair racial profiling for more than
30 years, increasing trust in law enforcement critical for officers who rely on community members to come to them when they are victims or witnesses of crimes and providing guidance to local law enforcement officers on how to handle complicated immigration issues.

Ramon Ramirez, civil rights leader and long-time resident of Woodburn, remembers what Oregon was like without the sanctuary law. “Before,” he says, “I saw immigration agents, aided by local police, busting down doors and grabbing people off the street, with no way of knowing their immigration status. Local police harassed my friends and neighbors, including U.S. citizens, demanding to see their papers. Passing this law made things a lot better.”

Today, immigrants are critical to Oregon’s cultural and economic vitality. They are our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. All of us call Oregon home.

Tragically, Oregon’s value continue to be under attack by local and national white nationalist groups pushing racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies that have the power to tear apart Oregon families and communities.

Progressive Democrats will defend dignity and respect. We will stand strong for fairness for every Oregonian.

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