Advocates demonstrate for protections of undocumented youth
SALEM — Oregon's capital city was the Monday night stop for youth activists traveling from California to Washington to show support for federal programs that allow certain undocumented immigrants, including young people and those from countries experiencing war or environmental disasters, to stay in the United States.
A few dozen people gathered on Oregon's capitol mall Monday evening in a show of support for recipients of the federal government's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and those who have received Temporary Protected Status.
DACA applies to certain immigrants who came to the country as children; Temporary Protected Status can be extended to people who came to the U.S. from countries that the Department of Homeland Security has designated unsafe to return to due to "extreme" conditions as environmental disasters or war.
The gathering followed a weekend of violence that broke out between white supremacists and counterprotestors gathering in Charlottesville, Va., which organizer Leonardo Reyes, of the Oregon DACA coalition, said rendered him "speechless."
"We are at a time when we're trying to figure out what our country stands for and what we believe in," Reyes told the crowd.
The event at the state capitol was held Monday not only to commemorate the fifth-year anniversary of the first date people could receive DACA — Aug. 15, 2012 — but also to protest the action by a group of state attorneys general who have threatened to sue the federal government if the Trump administration does not discontinue the DACA program by Sept. 5.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from nine other states have said that if the federal government does not take action by Sept. 5, they will move forward with lawsuits.
According to previous media reports, attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia are also part of the group asking the federal government to rescind the DACA program.
Reyes said before Monday's rally that activists wanted to create regional unity among states on the West Coast.
The Oregon DACA Coalition, a Salem-area organization formed by DACA youth last November, also advocates for long-term immigration reform.
DACA recipients are in the program for two years, at which point they can seek to have that status renewed if they continue to meet the program's criteria.
Activists say that there are about 20,000 recipients of DACA in the state, and about 800,000 nationally.
The gathering follows a legislative session that expanded some protections for undocumented immigrants in the midst of a national climate of uncertainty over immigration policy.
State lawmakers passed policies expanding healthcare coverage to all children, including undocumented kids, and mandating insurance and public health plan coverage for a range of reproductive health services, including abortions, to patients regardless of immigration status.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, has been a vocal supporter of these policies.
In February, Brown signed an executive order her office characterized as "broadening" the state's 30-year-old "sanctuary state" law. Under the executive order, state agencies cannot use state funds, resources or personnel "for the purpose of detecting or apprehending" people who are violating federal immigration laws. State agencies also cannot restrict services based on immigration status, unless required by state or federal law.
Since 1987, Oregon law has prohibited state and local authorities from enforcing federal immigration law if an individual's only violation of the law is that they are in the U.S. without legal status.
This session, the legislature also passed House Bill 3464, which prohibits public bodies from asking about citizenship status or disclosing certain information about individuals, unless the disclosure is required by state or federal law.
The state's approach is not without opponents: State Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, criticized what she called "flawed immigration policy on the state and federal level" in a Monday statement issued by a spokesman for the Senate Republicans.
And several legislators in the Oregon House of Representatives — Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence and Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford — have filed an initiative petition, IP 22, that would repeal the state's sanctuary law.