The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said late Tuesday it would comply with subpoenas from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for information the agency is seeking about two people it wants to deport.
The move appears aimed at circumventing Oregon’s sanctuary law, which is among the oldest in the country and has long blocked ICE and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating and sharing some information.
ICE is seeking details about two Mexican nationals that it claims are not in the country legally. According to jail records posted online, the Washington County Jail is currently holding both men.
An ICE official said its use of subpoenas is not new, but historically the agency hasn’t issued them against other law enforcement agencies. Still, these are the first subpoenas by ICE in Oregon.
Last month, ICE began issuing subpoenas to other law enforcement agencies in Denver and New York, both so-called sanctuary communities. They’ve since expanded the practice to California and Connecticut, which also limit local law enforcement’s interactions with ICE.
Oregon’s sanctuary law says no law enforcement agency can use its money, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending people whose only violation is being in the country unlawfully.
The law is more than 30 years old and has served as a model for others. It limits local and state police from enforcing federal immigration policies.
The legislation was intended to prohibit racial profiling. It says no law enforcement agency can use its resources for the sole purpose of detecting or apprehending people whose only violation is being in the country unlawfully.
In 2018, voters rejected an effort to repeal the sanctuary law, with 63% voting to keep it in place.
But that hasn’t stopped ICE from issuing requests to jails across the state to hold inmates who are from other countries. Oregon jails have largely ignored those requests.
Oregon and other sanctuary communities don’t comply with ICE detainers, in part because they’re signed by other ICE officials, not a judge. For that reason, opponents have argued they are not legally sufficient to compel local authorities. ICE has argued that local jurisdictions should comply with its detainer requests.
“Politically motivated sanctuary laws tie the hands of local law enforcement agencies who clearly see that working with ICE is crucial to public safety,” said Bryan Wilcox, deputy field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in Seattle, in a statement Tuesday.
Washington County said Tuesday that their lawyers had reviewed the subpoenas and would comply.
“Oregon law prohibits local police from sharing certain information for purpose of enforcement of federal immigration laws, except as provided by state or federal law,” the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “The information sought in these subpoenas relates to information that local police are generally prohibited from sharing under Oregon law and failure to comply with these subpoenas may be punished by an order of contempt by a federal judge.”
The Trump administration has waged a battle against sanctuary jurisdictions over the last three years.
Just last week, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams said he supported a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against King County, Washington, after the county blocked the use of its airfield for ICE deportation flights.
“I share the Attorney General’s belief that sanctuary status declarations directly contravene federal immigration law and threaten public safety,” Williams said in a statement. “The notion that states and other jurisdictions can interfere in the sharing of critical public safety information involving criminal conduct ignores the supremacy of federal law.”
Despite many studies and data to the contrary showing immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, immigration officials have repeatedly highlighted high-profile cases involving immigrants in sanctuary communities who commit violent crimes as a way to rail against the policies.
The issue is so divisive that Portland’s elected officials voted to pull police officers off of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2019 over its limited use of immigration-related arrests.
Some immigration attorneys bristled at the idea of ICE issuing subpoenas, noting they’re very similar to an administrative ICE warrant.
“Both are administratively issued without any court involvement or procedural safeguards,” said Stephen Manning, director of the Innovation Law Lab. “The story here is ICE and the Trump administration’s intimidation tactics aimed at jurisdictions like Oregon who are not just throwing their justice systems into anti-immigrant deportation actions and rather insist on procedural and constitutional regularity.”