A Federal Immigration Sweep Arrests Three "Dreamers" in the Portland Area, Turning Up the Heat on a Sanctuary City

How will Portland respond to an immigration crackdown by ICE and Donald Trump? Here's what has changed, and what's in store.

Demonstrators for immigrants’ rights crowded outside ICE offices on Southwest Macadam Avenue on March 27 to demand the release of Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez. (Emily Joan Greene)

The largest reported deportation sweep in the U.S. under President Donald Trump of previously sanctioned immigrants known as "Dreamers" took place last weekend in the Portland area.

In the last week, federal immigration agents arrested three people who had been given limited amnesty under President Barack Obama, according to multiple sources.

The three people had at one time all registered with the U.S. government under an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to legally remain here.

One, Luis Gerado Zazueta, had not renewed his DACA paperwork, says his immigration attorney, Maria Zlateva. Another, Emmanuel Ayala, had gone in for fingerprinting to renew his DACA three days before his arrest, as first reported by local Spanish-language talk show Cita Con Nelly.

The arrests of the Dreamers added to a growing sense that the White House is targeting so-called "sanctuary cities" like Portland for crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Two of the DACA arrests came Sunday morning, a day before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared his Justice Department would no longer award millions of dollars in grants to sanctuary cities that decline to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The first arrest, reported by WW on March 26, inflamed the fear and confusion felt in Portland since ICE started conducting raids in and around federal courthouses in January.

"They're showing up on a Sunday morning. That's an increased level of aggression," says Andrea Williams, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Causa. "It just seems cruel to me, knowing what kind of terror they would create in the immigrant community."

Here's what has changed in the ongoing standoff between Portland and ICE.

Activists protest the arrest of Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez. (Emily Joan Greene)

Why are Sunday's ICE arrests a big deal?

The three arrests in the Portland area aren't the first of Dreamers under Trump—there were high-profile arrests in Seattle and Jackson, Miss., last month—but they are the most documented so far in one metro area.

Among them: the March 26 arrest by ICE of Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez, a longtime resident of Southeast Portland who came to the U.S. at age 5. Rodriguez Dominguez, a church volunteer and Latino Network activist, had entered a court-ordered diversion program last December following a drunk-driving charge. If he completes the program, as he was on track to do, the conviction will be stricken from his record.

The arrest of an immigrant who had officially entered a diversion program for a DUII violation represents a change in the way immigration laws are being enforced. "We're starting to see a scary trend," says Mat dos Santos, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "It is a big change. It's shocking to me that [ICE agents] would interfere."

Driving under the influence is dangerous if common. But it's typically punished with probation and community service. People who violated immigration laws as children are suffering more severe consequences for the same or lesser crimes—simply because of where they were born.

Regional ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson tells WW that Rodriguez Dominguez "was targeted for arrest based upon his guilty plea in December to a charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants, an offense ICE deems a threat to public safety." ICE released him on bond Monday afternoon as friends, family and supporters rallied outside the agency's offices on Southwest Macadam Avenue. His case will be heard by a federal immigration judge.

Activists protest the arrest of Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez. (Emily Joan Greene)

Is ICE changing its strategy in Portland and other sanctuary cities?

ICE's Richeson tells WW the agency has not adjusted its policies since March 6, when Trump signed the most recent of three "Executive Orders on Protecting the Homeland" (his modified Muslim ban). But immigrant advocates and lawyers say they've noticed an increase in enforcement and a more aggressive ICE presence in Portland. As in historical mass deportation campaigns, creating fear and uncertainty may be part of that strategy.

Romeo Sosa, director of the Portland Voz Workers' Rights Education Project, which runs the day labor center on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., says the increase in reported ICE activity in public places spreads fear and encourages self-deportation. "It's an intimidation tactic," he says. By making its agents visible on the streets, ICE hopes "people will be afraid, and they'll pack their stuff and leave the country." Some, Sosa adds, have already done so.

Why are Trump and Sessions targeting sanctuary cities?

They promised to. "This has been part of their mean-spirited rhetoric since the campaign," says dos Santos. "They promised to punish cities that dared stand up for their immigrants. I think they're delivering."

After his inauguration in January, Trump threatened to revoke all federal funding of sanctuary cities, but decades of federal court precedent suggests such a move could quickly be ruled unconstitutional. The latest announcement from Sessions is still vague but far more specific in that it limits the federal funding in question to U.S. Department of Justice grants. Oregon's U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, denounced Sessions' plan to withhold Justice Department grants as detrimental to public safety and, in Wyden's words, "as un-American as it gets."

Activists protest the arrest of Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez. (Emily Joan Greene)

Will they target Portland?

Probably so. ICE now labels Multnomah and Washington counties as "non-cooperative jurisdictions" and intends to publish a weekly report of how many immigrants wanted by the agency were not handed over by county jailers as a result of sanctuary policies approved by state and local elected officials.

The first such report, released March 20, was a mess of jumbled statistics and drew swift criticism from local officials in counties labeled "non-cooperative." The ICE report named Washington County as one of the "highest volume" sanctuary jurisdictions, as it received seven ICE "detainer" orders demanding the transfer of immigrants in local custody during the week of Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.

This seemed to imply the county protected seven foreign criminals from deportation that week—even though not all of those individuals had been convicted of a crime, nor had their immigration cases been adjudicated. The report also noted that because local law enforcement does not typically inform ICE when denying a detainer, the numbers essentially represented guesswork by ICE personnel.

Two immigrants held in the Multnomah County Jail on charges of assault and amphetamine possession were listed in the report—although their alleged crimes were not necessarily any more serious than those of the approximately 1,200 other inmates in county custody on any given day.

How much money can Trump actually withhold?

The county and the city say they received $5.5 million from the Department of Justice during fiscal year 2016. Any attempt by Sessions to yank that money will set off a court battle not unlike what happened when the president signed an executive order to bar refugees from entering the country.

"In Multnomah County, we follow federal and state laws," says County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury. "So we do not expect to lose any of the $2.5 million in federal money that either comes directly to us or passes through the state or city."

Activists protest the arrest of Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez. (Emily Joan Greene)

Can Portland officials really do anything to protect immigrants?

As the arrest of Rodriguez Dominguez shows, Portland has limited powers when it comes to protecting immigrants from deportation. "The city had no role in this arrest, and I am against it," said Mayor Ted Wheeler in a statement. "However, ICE has the power to operate within our city, and does not have to inform us of their activities."

City officials have taken actions, from creating a training program for city employees to providing $50,000 toward the legal defense of immigrants' cases. But advocates argue the city could go further—by making fewer arrests for low-level offenses, for instance.

Will immigration policy be a litmus test for the national search for a police chief?

Yes. "Our Police Bureau leadership is in total agreement with our status as a sanctuary city," says Wheeler spokesman Michael Cox. "We expect any bureau leadership under Mayor Ted Wheeler to hold the same view on this important issue."

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