SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s Legislature took a step closer Tuesday to strengthening its unique sanctuary-state status, with the House passing a bill that would bar state and local agencies from asking about a person’s immigration status and from disclosing information to federal officials, except in certain circumstances.
The bill, introduced at the request of Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, both Democrats, has sharply divided lawmakers along party lines in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
The House Republican Office called it “an attempt to subvert federal immigration policy.” House Democrats said it “will strengthen privacy protections for vulnerable populations.”
Two Latino Democratic lawmakers – Teresa Alonso Leon, from the predominantly Latino community of Woodburn, and Diego Hernandez from Portland, Oregon’s biggest city – filed the bill on May 31, trying to counteract enhanced immigration enforcement ordered by President Donald Trump.
Principals of two Portland high schools wrote on behalf of Portland Public Schools to support the bill, saying “recent national and local events about increased federal immigration enforcement has caused considerable anxiety and concern throughout our school district and communities.”
“Our students are living in fear that their parents could be picked up by federal officials and they are looking to our schools to be safe places,” wrote Petra Callin of Madison High School and Filip Hristic of Roosevelt High School. They said students’ worries about their families’ safety can distract from learning. Some students are foregoing meals because of fear that filling out a form for free or reduced-cost lunch could put their families at risk of arrest and deportation.
The Oregon Winegrowers Association noted that Oregon’s wine industry and other agricultural businesses depend on immigrant labor, noting that immigration enforcement has a “chilling effect” where even if an employee is in the U.S. legally, their spouse or child may not be, making them afraid to drive to work or take their children to school.
Christiana Mayer, a resident of the Portland suburb of Forest Grove, disagreed. She wrote to the legislature: “Our elected leaders should be expected, by their oath of office, to uphold the laws of this nation, not work to circumvent them to benefit people here illegally and at the expense of the Oregon taxpayer!”
Oregon became America’s first, and so far only, sanctuary state in 1987 with a law preventing law enforcement from detaining people who are in the United States illegally but have not broken other laws. In February, Brown ordered all state agencies to follow it. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would create another sanctuary state.
A federal judge has blocked, at least temporarily, an executive order issued by Trump to cut funding to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Opponents of measures to protect those in the U.S. illegally from deportation say the safety of American citizens is being put at risk.
David Olen Cross, a Salem man who researches crimes committed by foreign nationals, said that almost half of the 969 foreign nationals in Oregon’s prisons whose detention is also being sought by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were incarcerated for sex abuse, rape and sodomy.
Under the new bill, the date, time or location of a person’s hearings or appointments that are not already public record cannot be disclosed by the public body. The bill said that, “except as required by state or federal law,” a public body may not disclose for the purpose of immigration enforcement a person’s address, workplace or work schedule, school and contact information.
A public body could inquire about a person’s citizenship or immigration status when determining eligibility for benefits, or as required by state or federal law.
The bill now goes before the Senate.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at