Where They Stand: Oregon's Gubernatorial Candidates On Immigration

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Sept. 20, 2018 9:30 p.m.

Perhaps nothing on November's ballot has the potential to generate as much heat as Measure 105, which will dictate the future of Oregon's 31-year-old sanctuary law.

A vote for Measure 105 would scrub the law, which limits how much help state and local police can give federal immigration enforcement officers. A vote against would keep the law in place.


The battle lines on the debate are well sketched out. Corporations such as Nike and Columbia are joining dozens of other organizations, politicians and some law enforcement officials in trying to fend off Measure 105.

The three major-party candidates in the 2018 race for Oregon governor are Gov. Kate Brown (Democrat), Rep. Knute Buehler (Republican) and Patrick Starnes (Independent).

The three major-party candidates in the 2018 race for Oregon governor are Gov. Kate Brown (Democrat), Rep. Knute Buehler (Republican) and Patrick Starnes (Independent).

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Pushing the measure is a cadre of conservative lawmakers and groups that want tighter immigration laws. Especially prominent is Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Sixteen Oregon sheriffs have also come out in favor.

On its face, the state's sanctuary law prevents state and local law enforcement from arresting someone for being in the country illegally — or even attempting to "detect" whether they are in the country illegally — if that person is only suspected of an immigration violation. But the precise effect of the law, passed in 1987 as a way to discourage racial profiling, is still subject to debate.

Measure 105 proponents say they simply want to ensure that law enforcement is able to share information seamlessly with immigration enforcers. Opponents say local law enforcement agencies could become a part of the nation’s immigration-enforcement apparatus if the measure passes.

The measure has also become a prominent point of disagreement in this year’s race for governor. Here’s where the three major-party candidates in that race stand on the measure.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Kate Brown (Democrat): Opposes

Since Donald Trump took office, Brown has rarely missed a chance to take issue with the president’s policies. One of the first instances came in February 2017, not long after Trump issued an executive order barring travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States

In light of Trump's order, Brown issued one of her own. It effectively extended the protections built into Oregon's sanctuary law to include all state agencies under her control — not just law enforcement.

Several months later, Brown pushed a bill that further walled off Oregon agencies from immigration authorities. House Bill 3464 prohibited public entities in Oregon from asking people about their immigration status and from sharing personal information like someone's address with immigration officials. The bill passed the Oregon House and Senate along party lines, with Democrats supporting it.

Given all this, it’s no surprise Brown has come out in opposition to Measure 105.

"I believe very strongly that Oregonians believe in fairness — in making sure that the statutes that we have in place that prohibit racial profiling for the last 30 years have been effective," Brown said when asked about her stance in July. "I believe very strongly, and I know Oregonians agree, that folks want to make sure that their neighbors are safe and feel included in their communities. And certainly, should folks commit a crime, they should be held accountable."

Knute Buehler (Republican): Supports

Buehler bested several more-conservative candidates to win the Republican nomination for governor in May. And while much of his campaign since has focused on his moderate credentials, he turned heads in late July when he announced his support for Measure 105.

“We need to have coordination and collaboration between local law enforcement and federal law enforcement,” Buehler told conservative radio talk show host Lars Larson. “People who are here and committing crimes, there needs to be that kind of coordination and communication. It is common sense.”

It’s not an entirely unexpected stance from the candidate, who voted against the 2017 bill that bolstered the state’s sanctuary law. But Buehler’s support is also somewhat murky.

In an interview with OPB, the candidate announced that he supports the central tenet of Oregon's sanctuary law — that state and local officers shouldn't enforce immigration law — and said he'd look to implement a similar policy as governor.

So why will Buehler vote to do away with a law he essentially supports? He says there’s too much confusion under the sanctuary law as it stands. He wants to make sure that local law enforcement is able to freely share information with immigration officials.

Buehler has also been clear that he opposes racial profiling and doesn’t believe it will increase if Measure 105 passes. And he says Oregon needs to find a way to ensure immigrants feel safe reporting crimes if the sanctuary law goes away.

“I’m voting for Measure 105. I’m not campaigning for it,” Buehler said. “It’s not something I pushed for to be on the ballot. But, you know, there needs to be clarity with regard to our immigration laws.”


Patrick Starnes (Independent): Opposes

Starnes’ opposition to Measure 105 doesn’t have roots in whether Oregon’s sanctuary law is good or bad. Instead, Starnes says he’s watching the money.

The Independent Party nominee has based his longshot candidacy on a push to reform Oregon’s permissive campaign finance laws. So when he learned that out-of-state entities — including two that have been labeled “hate groups” — had given money to Measure 105 supporters, Starnes decided to oppose.

“I used to be neutral,” Starnes said. “Then I found out a lot of the money was from out of state.”

Chief among Starnes’ concerns, he said, are nearly $150,000 of in-kind contributions to a committee supporting Measure 105 from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocates limiting immigration to the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group has ties to white supremacists.

Starnes also points to a $3,000 donation from the Michigan-based U.S. Inc. to a political action committee run by Oregonians for Immigration Reform. U.S. Inc. is tied to The Social Contract Press, which has also been labeled a hate group by the SPLC. Both U.S. Inc and FAIR have ties to John Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist whom the SPLC has called “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

(Opponents of Measure 105 have also received out-of-state money, including $50,000 from the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center and nearly $120,000 from the national American Civil Liberties Union.)

“It’s the hate group thing,” Starnes says. “Also the whole initiative, I feel, came from out of state. It wasn’t homegrown.”

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