Oregon’s sanctuary law will be stronger than ever under newly passed bill

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
June 23, 2021 6:30 p.m.

House Bill 3265 would strengthen a ban on public officials working with immigration enforcement — and allow them to be sued if they break the rules.

Oregon law enforcement officers and public agencies would be more explicitly prohibited from assisting federal immigration authorities, and could be subject to lawsuits if they do help facilitate deportations, under a bill that cleared the Legislature on Wednesday.

House Bill 3265 strengthens and expands the state’s sanctuary law, the first-such statewide policy in the nation when it passed in 1987. The bill, dubbed the “Sanctuary Promise Act,” passed the House last week on a 36-21 party-line vote. It passed the Senate on a 16-13 vote that saw only Democrats voting in favor.


If signed by Gov. Kate Brown, advocates say HB 3265 will result in a more extensive “sanctuary” than Oregon immigrants often had since lawmakers first passed a statewide policy in 1987.

“The law passed 34 years ago said that local law enforcement cannot enforce federal immigration law, leave that to federal immigration authorities,” said Leland Baxter-Neal, director of advocacy at the Latino Network, one of the groups pushing the bill. “In the last three decades the way that federal immigration authorities enforce immigration law has changed and there is vagueness and a lack of clarity in that statute. That has resulted in jurisdictions across the state interpreting the law differently and, in many cases, working very closely with ICE agents.”

The examples, Baxter-Neal and others say, are legion. They include instances of jail deputies alerting ICE agents when undocumented people are in a local jail or about to be released, as has occurred in Multnomah County and elsewhere. But according to Baxter-Neal, examples of local law enforcement working to assist immigration agents are far more extensive than that.

“Law enforcement agencies and officials throughout the state are providing information to ICE that helps them target, detain and deport Oregonians,” he said.

HB 3265 contains a number of new provisions strengthening and expanding the law passed in 1987. The bill would:

  • Prohibit public agencies from collecting information about a person’s citizenship status; giving information to federal immigration authorities for the purpose of enforcement; or denying services to people involved in the justice system because of their immigration status.
  • Require agencies to deny requests for information from immigration enforcement officials, and to forward information about any such requests to the state’s Criminal Justice Commission for inclusion in a state database. The requirement does not apply to subpoenas approved by a judge, but would block administrative subpoenas that ICE has used to demand information from Oregon law enforcement officials in the past.
  • Specifically allow individuals to sue in order to block an agency from sharing information with federal immigration authorities or violating other provisions of the bill. That right does not currently exist, leaving some to conclude the state law is toothless.
  • Require the Department of Justice to set up a hotline and website to allow people to report violations of the state’s sanctuary laws.
  • Block immigration authorities from detaining a person who is attending a court proceeding or is going to or leaving a courthouse. Both New York and Washington state have passed similar policies.
  • Prohibit Oregon law enforcement agencies from jailing people on behalf of federal immigration authorities, and block private immigration detention facilities in the state. The state currently has no such facilities or agreements, ever since a regional jail in The Dalles ended a contract with federal officials last year.

“House Bill 3265 is a bill about one thing: community safety,” state Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, said on the House floor last week. “Oregon is safest when all Oregonians can engage with public entities, local government, local law enforcement and the local court system without fearing that their accent or skin color will result in a different treatment.”

State Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, in the Oregon House of Representatives, Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

State Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, in the Oregon House of Representatives, Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Oregon’s sanctuary law was initially passed with bipartisan support, but in recent years its provisions have been controversial. In 2018, the group Oregonians For Immigration Reform pushed Ballot Measure 105 to do away with the law. It was roundly rejected by voters.

Oregon lawmakers have also expanded the state’s sanctuary policies before. In 2017, the Legislature passed House Bill 3464, which blocks state agencies from sharing information with immigration officials.


Even so, advocates and immigrants testified overwhelmingly that the new bill was necessary.

After an ICE enforcement action in Bend last year, a woman named Veronica Vega wrote in testimony she “heard many community members frustrated that Bend as a sanctuary city meant nothing. Our community is not any more safe or welcoming to immigrants. I believe this bill is a step in the right direction.”

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel submitted testimony to lawmakers that bolstering the sanctuary law would help improve public safety.

“Anyone who is a witness to or victim of a crime should feel empowered to come forward and report what they know,” Hummel wrote. “This happens in Deschutes County because we’ve devoted time and energy to establishing a trusting relationship with the public… When law enforcement agencies share information and cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to target and arrest Oregonians, it puts that hard-earned trust at risk.”

Opposition to the bill was harder to come by. At HB 3265′s sole public hearing in March, everyone who signed up to testify was either in support of the bill or neutral, and the overwhelming written testimony for the concept was positive.

One woman contended the bill “places Oregon citizens and police officers in danger.”

Potential concerns were also raised by the Oregon Department of Corrections, which said that roughly $2.5 million it receives in federal grant money every other year could be jeopardized.

A similar imbalance occurred on the House and Senate floors, where Democrats spoke forcefully for HB 3265, but opposing Republicans remained largely mum.

“Do you know what it’s like to have someone ripped away from your family because of their immigration status?” said state Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, who signed on as a chief sponsor to the bill after being appointed to fill a vacant House seat in March. “It feels like the wind gets knocked out of you, like the democracy you were told exists suddenly vanishes, and like the promise of refuge was empty.”

State Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said that when wildfires ravaged southern Oregon last year, undocumented residents in some communities refused to obey orders to evacuate.

“They thought it was a trick by ICE to get them out of their house,” Frederick said. “This is the kind of distrust that could be fatal in many situations.”

Just one Republican in either chamber spoke against the bill: state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, who suggested Wednesday he disagrees with the premise of the sanctuary law to begin with.

“It just bothers me greatly that we take a federal enforcement agency and we prohibit our local law enforcement from working with them,” Hansell said.

If HB 3265 is signed by Gov. Kate Brown, it will take effect immediately.