Local immigrant rights advocates seek protections against ‘Arizonafication’


Staff reports

Human rights activists are campaigning to make sure Multnomah County doesn’t go the way of some parts of the country where “Arizona-style” policies have damaged immigrant trust in the community.

Portland Jobs with Justice, which comprises several immigrant and labor justice groups, along with Voz Workers’ Rights Education project want local authorities to back up a resolution they passed months ago with stronger protections for immigrant residents.

“What we want is to continue the work we have done,” says Romeo Sosa, executive director of Voz, which works with day laborers. “We just don’t want the resolution on paper. We really want them to take more action.”

The Restoring Trust campaign, which seeks to regain trust between the immigrant communities and law enforcement, was spurred on by the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the Arizona immigration law. That decision struck down much of the law, but upheld the requirement that state law enforcement officers determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest, if they suspect that person is in the country illegally.

Nationally, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has implemented a program of detainment called Security Communities, which requests that local law enforcement officers detain people they arrest for 48 hours longer than required in order for ICE officials to determine their status. It’s a practice that immigrant rights advocates say leads to racial profiling and mistrust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

In March, the Multnomah County Commissioners passed a resolution in an attempt to put some oversight into the federal program.

“The Board of County Commissioners shares the public’s deep concern regarding issues raised by ICE’s mandatory implementation of the Secure Communities Program in County jails, including but not limited to, the erosion of public trust and public safety and the current and potential impact it may have on the County’s General Fund,” states the resolution, which is non-binding.

The resolution asks that ICE’s local operatives exercise “prosecutorial discretion” and communicate with the region on how it plans to fund, train and implement its tracking and evaluation methods.

The resolution also asks for information on the people from the region being deported, including the number of minors that have been deported or are in the process of removal, U.S.-born minors whose parents have been deported or are in the process of being deported. The county also wants to know how many men and women with child dependents that have been deported or are in the process, and how many families have been separated as a result of deportation.

On July 11, as part of a national week of action, representatives from VOZ and Jobs with Justice addressed the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners with examples Multnomah County can follow. They cite the TRUST Act, passed in California earlier this month, which requires police to release individuals who have posted bail, provided they do not face serious charges and have no serious prior convictions — regardless of federal detainer requests. The Restoring Trust campaign also heralds similar efforts in Cook County, Ill., Santa Clara, Calif., the state of Connecticut and Washington, D.C., that have approved legislation that sets standards for responding to ICE hold requests to protect against racial profiling.

However, other states, such as Georgia, have followed Arizona’s lead by enacting harsher policies on the treatment of immigrants.

Advocates say that in addition to racial profiling and civil rights violations, ICE holds also inadvertently lead to the removal of victims and witnesses, the detention of U.S. citizens, and serious economic burdens on local law enforcement agencies who foot the cost for longer incarceration periods.

The Restore Truth campaign also claims that the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the federal government from “commandeering” state and local resources for federal objectives, prevents the federal government from mandating state or local compliance with ICE holds.

Lt. Steve Alexander with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department says officers have changed nothing in their practice of holding detainees since the Secure Communities come into operation several years ago.

“We have not changed our procedures here (regarding Security Communities) at this time,” Alexander says. “ICE has a separate process. We don’t notify anybody.”

The nearest ICE detention facility is in Tacoma, Wash., but ICE does manage a short-terms holding facility in Portland, which sends detainees to Tacoma.

Check out the Restoring Trust Campaign here. 

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