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Esquivel will keep trying to repeal sanctuary law

State Rep. Sal Esquivel said he has hit a temporary roadblock with a ballot initiative that seeks to repeal Oregon's 1987 sanctuary city law that prevents local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration law. But he says the hurdle won't derail the effort.

After the petition attracted 1,000 signatures to qualify for a draft ballot title, the Oregon Department of Justice decided on Oct. 28 that the petition wasn't clear enough in explaining its purpose to voters.

"We had enough signatures but they wouldn't give us a ballot title," said Esquivel, a Medford Republican.

Undaunted, Esquivel and Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, have revised the language on the petition to comply with the Department of Justice, but may seek other legal means to get the ballot title or collect another 1,000 signatures.

Nearman said he was disappointed in the justice department because the Oregon secretary of state had allowed the ballot petition to collect the initial batch of signatures.

"They're the justice department and they owe us justice," he said.

The state sanctuary city law prevents local law enforcement from arresting people solely on the grounds they are in the country illegally.

Michelle Glass, regional director of Unite Oregon, said that repealing the sanctuary city law would make members of the community feel less safe and less inclined to call the police in emergency situations. Unite Oregon is an organization devoted to racial justice and other social issues, with a regional office in Medford.

Glass said she fears a repeal of the law would increase the rate of profiling.

"It's bad public policy," she said. "We're rural law enforcement areas that should be concerned with things that put our community at risk. We don't need to make the police's job more difficult."

Esquivel said he's been criticized for trying to repeal the law, but he doesn't think the effect of his initiative would lead to mass roundups of those in the country illegally. He said it would give police the ability to investigate someone further during a traffic stop to determine immigration status.

"Some people say I'm a racist, but I'm half-Mexican," Esquivel said. "People are getting tired of progressives calling other people names because they believe differently."

Esquivel said his family members also include someone who is gay and transgender. His own father came to the U.S. under the 1942 Bracero program that provided a legal means to work in the country. The program ended in 1964, but Esquivel said he thought it was a useful way to bring people into the country on a temporary legal basis.

Esquivel said he objects to the idea that people can remain in the country without any legal immigration status.

Making immigration arrests would further fill the Jackson County Jail, which now routinely releases prisoners early due to overcrowding. Esquivel said he wasn't sure where immigration offenders in Jackson County would be placed before being turned over to federal officials.

"That would be a local decision," he said. "I'm leaving it up to local people to make decisions on it."

Esquivel said the issue of sanctuary cities has been in the spotlight recently because of President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to deport millions of Mexicans who aren't in the country legally.

"I think the Trump administration will come down on cities that are sanctuary cities," he said.

Ashland City Councilor Pam Marsh, who will replace state Rep. Peter Buckley in January, noted that both Ashland and Portland are sanctuary cities.

"We are taking the most compassionate, pragmatic approach to welcoming people into our communities," she said.

She said repealing the sanctuary law would deprive local residents of the ability to direct how their police officers enforce laws.

"I think this ballot measure would meet a tremendous amount of resistance," she said. "To eliminate a community's ability to be a sanctuary city would meet a lot of opposition."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Esquivel