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Election 2018: Funded by Hate, an Oregon Ballot Measure Seeks to Overturn a 30-Year-Old Law

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This November, Oregon voters will decide whether to repeal a 31-year-old law that prohibits the use of state and local resources for immigration enforcement. Measure 105 was placed on the November ballot thanks to the efforts of a local anti-immigrant organization, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), in conjunction with the national hate group the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Both of these organizations have long advocated for extreme positions on immigration and their support for a ballot initiative should be cause for concern. It will be up to voters to reject the anti-immigrant hate.

A far cry from controversial in 1987, the original law passed the Oregon Senate 29 to 1 and the House 58 to 1 and garnered little attention in the first 30 years it was on the books.  Authored by state Rep. Rocky Barilla after he led a lawsuit on behalf a Mexican-American man who was hauled out of a restaurant by police who did not identify themselves, just because he looked undocumented. “The police actually really liked this law,” said Barilla, as the law was “meant to protect local city resources.” (Law enforcement officials generally like safe-city laws, because such laws make local police work distinct from immigration enforcement, which frees up resources for the police while making it more likely that communities will cooperate with them.)

Oregon’s long-established law was called into question following the Trump Administration’s repeated anti-immigrant fear-mongering around safe-city policies. No single definition for these policies exists, but the term typically refers to policies similar to Oregon’s law, which limits the use of local resources spent in cooperation with immigration enforcement in low-priority deportation cases. Nevertheless, Trump and his allies have worked tirelessly to paint safe cities as something much more nefarious. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has even attempted to defund safe cities, though his efforts have so far been blocked by the courts.

In line with the Administration’s line of attack, OFIR and FAIR have turned their attention to repealing the Oregon law. Under the “Repeal Oregon Sanctuary State Law Committee,” FAIR has made over $177,000 in-kind contributions to the campaign and OFIR has made over $150,000 in contributions.

Founded in 2000 by a small group of Oregonians, OFIR’s leadership has substantial ties to extreme, sometimes violent, anti-immigrant groups and white nationalists across the country. It led a successful anti-immigrant campaign in 2014 to defeat a different ballot measure, and OFIR has long entangled itself with white nationalist John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations.

John Tanton, originally a Michigan ophthalmologist, began to build a network of anti-immigrant organizations in the 1970s, including FAIR. He and his early financial backers, the Pioneer Fund, believed in eugenics and white racial superiority, but OFIR has embraced Tanton’s network all the same.

Cynthia Kendoll, OFIR president, is a frequent guest at events held by FAIR and other Tanton organizations. One of OFIR’s co-founders, Elizabeth Van Staaveren, a major funder of Oregon’s ballot measure, has also been a major funder of US Immigration Reform PAC, which is run by John Tanton’s wife.

There is a broad coalition of voices have come out in opposition to Measure 105 and support for Oregon’s long-standing law. The “No on 105” coalition includes elected officials, union leaders, faith leaders, community organizations, and law enforcement officers. Gov. Kate Brown, who opposes Measure 105, said the current law has been effective in combating racial profiling in the state.  And an ad released by the ACLU features regular Oregonians who oppose 105.  Both Nike’s CEO Mark Parker and Columbia’s CEO Tim Boyle made statements against Measure 105.

As Boyle said:

Thanks to Oregon’s culture of openness and looking out for its neighbors, my family was able to emigrate to Oregon from Nazi Germany and live here without fear. Oregon is enriched by our diversity, and immigrants living in Oregon are part of our families, communities, workplaces, and places of worship. Measure 105 does not align with Oregon values.

Fortunately, the polls also show that a decisive majority of voters are against Measure 105 and will not side with hate and fear-mongering. Defeating Measure 105 not only will be an important victory for the people of Oregon but could be an important blow against the steady growth of the anti-immigrant movement.

(Oregon isn’t the only place where anti-immigrant decisions will be on the ballot this year. As Daniel Nichanian wrote at The Appeal, there are at least nine counties across America where 287(g) enforcement policies will be decided, thanks to local sheriffs’ elections. Listen to Daniel’s podcast with us here.)