The six Democrats in Oregon’s congressional delegation are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to not withhold roughly $3 million in grants to law enforcement agencies in the state.
“These critical federal dollars fund community policing initiatives, drug treatment and mental health programs, indigent defense and proactive crime prevention efforts,” the delegation wrote to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The delegation was responding to a DOJ letter sent to Multnomah County, Oregon and 27 other jurisdictions that threatened to hold back the grant dollars unless those places could justify their sanctuary policies for immigrants.
Since President Trump was elected, state and local officials have struggled to find common ground with the federal government over what’s allowed and required under a increasingly complex web of immigration laws.
The DOJ said Oregon and Multnomah County are not in compliance with federal immigration law that requires information sharing.
Specifically, the DOJ said it was concerned the jurisdictions may not be in compliance with 8 U.S.C. 1373, which says officials or government entities can’t create rules that stop the sharing of information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In May, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office enacted a new policy that states: “Should ICE request information from MCSO, members shall route the request to the Records Unit Manager, who will provide no greater information than is available to the public.”
In its letter, the DOJ pointed to that policy as a potential problem.
“The Department is concerned that this appears to restrict the sending of information regarding immigration status, in violation of section 1373(a),” Alan Hanson, the acting assistant attorney general wrote to the county in the Nov. 15 letter.
In a similar letter to Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, the DOJ’s Hanson raised concerns with two state laws: Oregon’s 30-year-old sanctuary law and HB 3464.
For the last 30 years, Oregon has been a sanctuary state.
Under state law, local law enforcement agencies are prohibited from using their resources to enforce federal immigration law if a person’s only crime is that they entered the country illegally.
In August, HB 3464 went into effect. It allows state and local governmental bodies to decline to provide information about a person’s immigration status, except when required by law. It also directs Oregon’s attorney general to create policy to limit federal immigration enforcement at places like courthouses and schools.
Like with Multnomah County, Hason wrote the DOJ is “concerned that this appears to restrict the sending of information regarding immigration status, in violation of section 1373(a).”
“Threats to withhold these critical funds severely jeopardize state and local efforts to adequately protect the citizens of Oregon,” the delegation’s Democrats wrote. “We are deeply concerned about DOJ’s threats to withhold Byrne JAG funding to the state of Oregon as a means of coercing sanctuary jurisdictions into changing their policies.”
Republican Rep. Greg Walden was the only member of Oregon’s congressional delegation who didn’t sign the letter.
In September, Sessions visited Portland to criticize the state’s sanctuary law and urged local leaders to change their rules.
“These policies hinder the work of federal law enforcement, they’re contrary to the rule of law and they have serious consequences for the law-abiding residents of Oregon,” Sessions said during his speech. “I urge the city of Portland, the state of Oregon, and every sanctuary jurisdiction to reconsider.”
In their letter, the delegation told Sessions that threats to withhold funding undermines the his agency’s own goal of curbing violent crime.