Clackamas County reaffirms support of diversity, hands-off immigration actions
Clackamas County commissioners have reaffirmed their support of diversity and opposition to stepped-up federal efforts to arrest and deport immigrants who are here illegally.
Their resolution, which they passed unanimously Thursday (June 8), stops short of "sanctuary" status approved by some cities — Portland, Hillsboro and Beaverton among them — and Multnomah County.
"This is not about making us a "sanctuary' county," said Commissioner Paul Savas, whose parents were Greek.
But it added the voices of Savas and the three other commissioners to a March 2 statement by Chairman Jim Bernard, who said at the meeting, "Silence is the moral equivalent of consent." It also restates county diversity policies in resolutions adopted in 2012 and 2015.
"Much of this resolution is symbolic," said Bill Street of Milwaukie, who was among those speaking for the resolution. "But symbolism is important. Reaffirming policies and procedures through symbolic action is an important aspect of leadership."
The Rev. Zac Harmon, a resident of Wilsonville and curate at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salem, said a broader message was applicable.
"The timing is important, particularly in the wake of what happened in Portland," Harmon said. He referred to the May 26 stabbing deaths of two men who attempted to shield two young women from anti-Muslim rants aboard a MAX light-rail train.
"I think not to make that kind of statement would send a very negative message to our minority communities here," he said.
Not a shield
The county is bound by a 30-year-old state law that bars police from checking on a person's immigration status, unless the person is arrested for another crime or a federal warrant is issued for a criminal violation of immigration or other laws.
However, federal law bars state and local governments from restricting information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the immigration status of people.
"The county is saying … you should do the things you should have a right to do" to use government services, Bernard said. "While we can't protect you, we can assure you the county will treat you with the utmost dignity and respect you deserve."
Though most of the public testimony favored the resolution, Laura Hennig of Oregon City opposed it.
"How is it justice to exempt illegal aliens from the law?" she said. "Refusal to obey the law of the land ensures domestic unrest. Allowing our borders to be crossed without permission allows individuals who want to destroy America to enter."
Her remarks got a smattering of applause from the rear of the commissioners' meeting room.
Commissioner Ken Humberston, who has worked in law enforcement, said ICE detainers are considered civil matters separate from criminal warrants issued when there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
A price to pay
Bernard said the county learned the hard way when in March 2012, it kept Maria Miranda-Olivares in jail for 19 hours on an ICE detainer after she served a two-day sentence on a charge of domestic violence.
A U.S. District Court magistrate judge ruled in 2014 that the county violated her constitutional right against unreasonable seizure, and the settlement cost the county $100,000. After the ruling, Clackamas County was among those that limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities to a daily notification of foreign-born inmates in jail.
Bernard said the county received no support from the federal agency in defending against the lawsuit.
"We lost a court case and we are not going to lose again," he said.
Steven Amick of Beavercreek, a former news reporter, said a sheriff's major-crimes investigator once told him that in approaching migrant farmworkers — a number of them without immigration documents — "it was very important to establish trust."
If those farmworkers fear local agencies would report them to federal immigration authorities, Amick said, "that trust is lost and our public safety is at risk."
'A time of inclusion'
Kate Rohde of Oak Grove is a retired minister.
"Selective enforcement and current rhetoric and immigration policies are putting a focus on people with brown skin," she said, even though they may be U.S. citizens. "It has created a horrendous situation for brown-skinned people of all nationalities."
Cristina Marquez spoke for Causa, Oregon's immigrant-rights group. She also translated for Carmen Gonzalez, who is a U.S. citizen — and a 30-year resident of the county, now of Wilsonville — but also a speaker of Mixtec, a language spoken in Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
"She said her children tell her, 'Mom, when you are going to work, be very careful out there,'" Marquez said.
The resolution was drafted by Emmett Wheatfall, who was hired as Clackamas County's diversity manager in 2014 and is an assistant county administrator. He is the first person of color in the county's executive ranks.
He said it was not that long ago, historically speaking, that people like him could not use the same restrooms or drink from the same water foundations as white people in some states — and he reflected on that as he began work in the Public Services Building.
"What was a time of exclusion is now a time of inclusion," he said. "We are making progress and I think this kind of effort at inclusion, like this resolution, is showing we are taking further steps."