Sanctuary lawsuit against California could impact Oregon

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pictured here at an event in Portland in September, announced Wednesday that the Justice Department is seeking to block provisions in three sanctuary laws passed in California.

SALEM — While California’s sanctuary laws are bolder than Oregon’s, the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against California announced Wednesday could portend legal action against this state.

In a speech to the California Peace Officers’ Association, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday that the Justice Department is seeking to block provisions in three sanctuary laws passed in California. The complaint states that the state laws “impermissibly” attempt to override federal statute and target the federal government.

Laws in California prohibit private employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration officials and law enforcement from providing to federal officials the release date of undocumented convicts. The laws also require a state inspection and review of federal immigration detention centers and immigration and apprehension processes.

Those laws are more aggressive than any of the sanctuary laws in Oregon, said Warren Bidford, law professor at Willamette University College of Law.

“Because of the size of Oregon and the fact we have been respectful and nearly not as aggressive as California, I think it is unlikely that the DOJ will target Oregon in a similar lawsuit, but certainly, nothing surprises me with this administration and how it uses its limited governmental resources,” Bidford said.

The DOJ is likely using the lawsuit against California as a warning to Oregon and other jurisdictions that have enacted laws and executive orders to protect undocumented immigrants, Bidford said.

“Oregon is not the model of state the DOJ would want to use as an example to other state and municipalities thinking about taking a stance on immigration issues,” Bidford said. “They are going to go against the big fish. And that is California because of its size and how strong the economy is and the values that so publicly contrast with the values of the Trump administration.”

But in January, the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to subpoena local officials and to confiscate federal criminal justice funding from Oregon and 22 other jurisdictions if they continue to refuse to assist authorities in enforcing federal immigration law.

A U.S. District Court judge in California declined to block the administration from withholding a $1 million law enforcement grant to the state. The Department of Justice delayed the grant as part of its crackdown on jurisdictions where sanctuary laws conflict with requirements of the grants, the Washington Examiner reported Tuesday.

Three Republican lawmakers are seeking to repeal Oregon’s 30-year-old sanctuary law with Initiative Petition 22, which they hope to place on the November ballot.

State law prohibits state government agencies from using money, equipment or personnel to detect or apprehend individuals whose only crime is violation of federal immigration law.

Initiative Petition 22 chief sponsors Reps. Greg Barreto of Cove, Sal Esquivel of Medford and Mike Nearman of Independence and Oregonians for Immigration Reform have been collecting signatures for the measure for nearly a year.

Richard LaMountain, former OFIR vice president and petitioner for IP 22, said the Department of Justice would be right to sue Oregon for its sanctuary laws, because the statutes violate federal law.

“Sanctuary policies that shield criminal aliens conflict with federal law,” LaMountain said. “State law cannot supercede federal law. I think DOJ is on very firm ground.”

Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday reaffirmed her commitment to the state’s sanctuary laws.

“Oregon is a welcoming place for all who call our state home. These values were affirmed some 30 years ago in state statute, which are in full compliance with federal law,” Brown said in a statement.

“Oregon will not be bullied by a Trump administration that is focused on dividing our country. As governor, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that the rights and values of all Oregonians are protected.”

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