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Bonamici, Blumenauer: Expand areas off-limits to federal immigration arrests

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Legislation writes into law agency policies that predate Trump presidency, extends 'sensitive locations' to courthouses and some government offices.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, right, and Suzanne Bonamici speak to reporters Friday, March 31, after panel discussion of their bill to put some areas off-limits to arrest by federal immigration agents.U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer want to confirm and expand areas off-limits to arrests by federal immigration agents.

The legislation sponsored by the Oregon Democrats would write into law "sensitive locations" such as schools, churches and hospitals covered by agency policies issued when Barack Obama was president.

But their bill (HR 1815) would expand the definition to courthouses and some government offices — including emergency services — in response to reports of immigration-related arrests in Oregon and elsewhere.

"We recognize it is one small but important piece to make our communities safer and help address the fear. But we really need much more," Bonamici said Friday (March 31) at the conclusion of a roundtable discussion at Portland State University.

"We know the fear isn't just in the minds of people who are undocumented. It is in anybody who looks like they might be undocumented."

Blumenauer added: "These services protect everybody. If courts do not work, if schools do not work, if social systems do not work, it puts everybody at risk."

Among the panelists were Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Circuit Judge Nan Waller, immigration advocates and community leaders.

Trial courts are under state authority, but security is provided by counties.

"The courthouse is the only place where people can get access to justice," said Waller, the presiding judge of Oregon's largest trial court.

The day before the panel discussion, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly released a letter labeling as "particularly troubling" a March 16 description by Tani Cantil-Sakauye, California's chief justice, that federal agents were "stalking" local courthouses to arrest people based solely on immigration status.

"These dramatic detentions don't make us safer, they incite panic," Kafoury said in a statement.

"Women courageous enough to talk to a domestic violence advocate are now too fearful to leave their homes to get a restraining order. Think about it. Women are now more afraid of our federal government than the person who is abusing them."

Homeland Security is the parent agency of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), both of which issued memos in 2011 and 2013 outlining which areas they deem "sensitive locations" off-limits to enforcement.

Included in the current policies are funerals, and services for survivors of domestic violence, mental health and drug and alcohol treatment.

"It's a little but of cold comfort right now, because it is an executive order, not law, and could change any moment," said Melina LaMorticella, a Portland lawyer who is chairwoman of the Oregon chapter of the American Immigration Law Association.

"But it is something we have been relying on to keep our communities and clients from feeling panic. I think part of this administration's agenda is to create fear and panic and discourage immigration and community participation."

In addition to courthouses, the legislation would extend "sensitive area" status to congressional district and Social Security offices, motor vehicle and public assistance offices, and emergency services.

"The increased activity of ICE with no apparent boundaries is causing chaos in our communities and traditionally sacred places of sanctuary," said Pastor Mark Knutson of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland.

Blumenauer said Congress also needs to deal with an overhaul of immigration laws, including the status of an estimated 11 million people without documents proving legal presence. Such a bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate back in 2013, with support from both parties, but died without a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

Now Republicans control both chambers, and since he took office Jan. 20, President Donald Trump has moved more aggressively on enforcement of immigration laws.

Still, Bonamici said, "this should not be a partisan issue."

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