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What Does Oregon's Sanctuary Status Actually Mean?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has targeted undocumented immigrants outside of courthouses. (John Moore/Getty Images)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has targeted undocumented immigrants outside of courthouses. (John Moore/Getty Images)
November 2, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. — As U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests become increasingly visible in Oregon, many wonder what it actually means to be a sanctuary state.

Earlier this year, Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order forbidding state agencies from helping immigration officials find undocumented immigrants, making Oregon a sanctuary state. But that hasn't stopped arrests, which have become more visible in large part because of cell phone videos and social media.

John Schlosser is a criminal defense attorney in Portland with many undocumented clients. He said he appreciates Brown's move, as well as similar designations at the local level, but he isn't convinced it's anything more than talk.

"These are more aspirational issues than actual ability to do things,” Schlosser said. "The fact that we have a sanctuary city doesn't mean that we get to, like, kick ICE outside the gates of the city wall. That's not how it works."

Schlosser said he's had clients targeted outside the courthouse in Portland. He said the current administration's immigration policy has been far less predictable than that of former President Barack Obama, which targeted people who had committed a felony or misdemeanor.

Juan Rogel is executive director of, a nonprofit organization connecting Latino communities to politics in Oregon. He too said he thinks the sanctuary state status is just a formality.

Rogel said undocumented Oregonians would be safer if they had access to identification and drivers licenses so that they could drive and work. He also talked about some of the ways ICE could be held more accountable.

"Every time they're going to do any kind of operation, they have to wear a uniform, [or] they can't spend more than 30 minutes outside of your house,” Rogel suggested. "Why not talk about, like, a kind of Miranda rights for undocumented immigrants?"

Rogel said undocumented immigrants aren't read their Miranda rights because illegal immigration is a civil, not criminal, offense. He said while some of Oregon's lawmakers have been outspoken on this issue, they need to do more to help vulnerable communities.

"Not only make a statement or a video about what happened. It's more than that,” he said. "They have to come to the communities and talk about these issues and hear people and hear those cases. How can we make sure immigration or ICE is not going to operate that way?"

President Donald Trump has vowed to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities and states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR