The city of Ashland is on solid legal footing as a sanctuary city despite recent threats from Washington to punish communities that offer protection to immigrants, according to a memo from Ashland’s city attorney in response from a request from the mayor.
President Donald Trump released an executive order on Jan. 25 to support immigration enforcement and punish local governments by pulling federal money from those who identify as so called “sanctuary cities.”
The designation applies to communities which do not specifically comply with immigration by seeking undocumented people or notifying federal authorities should a person be arrested who is not a citizen. Governmental entities, including the state of Oregon, have argued it’s a violation of a person’s right under due process to detain people on an immigration hold if they qualify for release otherwise.
Ashland issued a resolution in 2003 affirming protection of civil liberties and against a municipal role in federal immigration law enforcement. In the wake of the president’s executive order, Mayor John Stromberg asked City Attorney Dave Lohman to review the possible consequences of standing firm in that resolution.
“We have to look at how this might affect our city," the mayor said. "We have to consider all the possibilities before going forward.”
Councilor Stefani Seffinger concurred, saying that, while she believes in Ashland as an inclusive community and she deplores prejudice, it’s important to know what the city might be up against should the president make good on pulling federal funding from sanctuary communities.
“I believe the community has a right to know about this and decide,” she said.
Ashland is not likely to suffer any serious consequences by staying with its sanctuary status, according to Lohman. There's no set definition for that term, Lohman noted. It's generally defined as a policy that police not inquire about the immigration status of those they arrest, and that authorities not extend detention of inmates who would be otherwise released for the purpose of assisting federal immigration officials.
Ashland does not have a jail, so the requirement to further detain arrested undocumented immigrants would not fall under the city's responsibility.
Jails are typically run by counties, rather than cities, so county policies matter more to immigrants. In Jackson County the jail is in Medford. Jackson County has not specifically labeled itself a sanctuary, but Oregon law establishes boundaries between local entities and federal immigration, saying that no state law enforcement resources can be used to investigate or enforce non-criminal immigration matters, as the Ashland Police Department posted on its Facebook page in November in response to questions about the city’s sanctuary status.
Police Chief Tighe O’Meara backed his statement up to the Ashland City Council in January by saying his officers do not question residency or legal status. “We don’t want to discourage anyone from contacting the police when they need us.”
Lohman on Wednesday issued an 11-point finding in response to the mayor’s question about impacts. “The essence of the federal statute referenced in (the) Executive Order ... is a section that requires jurisdictions to refrain from prohibiting their employees to maintain or share with other governments available information regarding individuals’ immigration status. The statute does not require jurisdictions to collect such information.”
The attorney continues saying the city of Ashland is in compliance because it does not normally collect such information. However, should it have the information, it is shared already. “(A)ny information the City has about that individual is shared with all appropriate federal, state, and local law enforcement officials upon request, including immigration officials.”
The city of Ashland received $530,000 in direct or pass-through federal grants and approximately $577,000 in loans of funds ultimately from federal sources, according to Lohman. He concludes it’s still unknown what portion if any of those funds could be affected.
But, in his summary, Lohman concludes the city of Ashland could keep its sanctuary city resolution without being concerned, legally. “At least from a strict legal perspective, the January 25 Executive Order should have no impact.” He continues, “The City Council need not modify Resolution No.2003-05 in order to remain in compliance with the federal law.”
Michelle Glass from Oregon United, which filed a lawsuit against Trump’s executive order, said the organization wants to support cities in staying with their sanctuary status and resolutions. “We’d urge them not to step back," she said. "We want to encourage them to continue to affirm all of our members of the community.”
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.