Despite Oregon’s Sanctuary Laws, Emails Show Portland Prosecutors Volunteered Information to ICE Agents

Emails obtained by WW cast doubt on the claim that undocumented immigrants living in Portland can report crimes and show up in court without risk of deportation.

Multnomah Justice Center (Joe Riedl)

Last year, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill assured Portlanders his office did not communicate with federal immigration agents.

"The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office does not notify or alert immigration officials or agencies regarding witnesses, victims or defendants with whom we come into contact," he said in a statement in January 2017.

Underhill made the promise to assure undocumented immigrants living in Portland that they could report crimes and show up in court without risk of deportation. He was joined by other law enforcement agencies that want crime victims and witnesses to feel safe talking to local officials.

But records newly released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement show that Underhill's office was doing what he pledged not to do.

Emails obtained exclusively by WW reveal Underhill's office sometimes reaches out to ICE and shares information about both adults and juveniles.

(Joanna Gorham)

On July 11, 2017, for example, a Multnomah County prosecutor called the federal agency asking for information about a man who had previously been deported and was back in the Multnomah County Jail.

That's a problem for two reasons: First, Underhill had pledged not to tell ICE about people in custody. (MCDA says it does not know what information the prosecutor shared with ICE.) Second, the effect of asking the agency questions about the man's history set the gears of deportation in motion for someone who hadn't yet been convicted of a crime.

The ICE agents talked among themselves, emails show, to make sure the immigration official handling the man's case knew where he was being held.

"He is in [the Multnomah County Jail] now on warrants," one wrote. "Happy hunting."

Underhill's office is the latest Portland-area agency shown to say one thing to progressive voters—and then do exactly the opposite when interacting with the feds.

That tension is poised to become a big issue in Oregon politics.

This November, voters statewide will probably face a ballot measure asking them whether to continue barring local law enforcement from enforcing immigration laws.

Related: An aggressive anti-immigration group wants to use the ballot box to erase Oregon's sanctuary laws.

But a review of more than 1,000 internal communications between federal immigration and Oregon law enforcement agencies shows many local officials are already testing the limits of so-called sanctuary laws. At least 11 agencies—including the Oregon State Police, the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon Department of Corrections—may have shared more information than was required in 2017.

The records obtained by WW are only a limited sampling of communications between ICE and Oregon law enforcement. But the emails, which span December 2016 to December 2017, offer insight into how local agencies cooperate with the federal agency.

They also show how a patchwork of local policies has provided little real assurance for immigrants that they can get help from cops and courts without tipping off the feds.

"The federal government is doing their best to keep ICE's actions secret," says Mat dos Santos, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "Oregonians deserve to know in what ways our state is complicit with Trump's cruel deportation machine that is tearing apart families."

Rally against President Trump’s travel ban on Jan. 30, 2017. (Gabriel Green)

Emails show Multnomah County prosecutors shared information multiple times in 2017.

Deputy DA Adam Gibbs, the point of contact between ICE and the DA's office, acknowledges many of the messages violated the office's internal policy. "Any of those calls and emails should have come through me," he says.

After WW inquired about the emails, the DA's office said it will review its policies and ensure that prosecutors understand what they can and cannot share with ICE. "We stand by our policy and do not, and will not, notify or alert immigration officials or agencies regarding individuals with whom we come into contact," the agency said in a statement.

Gibbs adds that the DA will provide information to the federal agency if it is a matter of public record. "We will also respond to ICE as we would to any member of the public or a reporter who calls us," he says.

It's harder to grade Portland city officials on the sanctuary-city pledge they made.

Mayor Ted Wheeler has said Portland police "will not work with ICE to enforce federal immigration law."

Portland police shared several unredacted police reports with the federal agency in 2017. But that was before a policy change Feb. 1. Unlike the DA's office, Portland police decided that providing public records is barred by the state's sanctuary law, a spokesman says. The bureau now charges federal immigration officials for the reports and redaction.

"Now more than ever," Police Chief Danielle Outlaw tells WW, "we must ensure our immigrant community does not see us as a source for fear."

Chief Danielle Outlaw (Thomas Teal)

The emails also reveal a striking level of cooperation between federal immigration agents and Oregon's prisons—though prisons deal with people who already have criminal convictions.

Records show the Oregon Department of Corrections shares information about inmates, including their names, nationalities and release dates.

On at least two occasions in 2017, it appears prison officials proactively reached out to ICE to ask if the federal agency "had any interest in this inmate" or would "check and see if this inmate has an active ICE detainer." ODOC also shared lists of all foreign-born inmates in custody who were scheduled to be released within six months of June 2017.

Jennifer Black, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, says her agency is compliant with state and federal laws. She also acknowledged that it communicates extensively with ICE.

The free flow of information is seemingly at odds with Gov. Kate Brown's stance on Oregon's sanctuary status. "I will uphold the civil and human rights of all who call Oregon home," Brown said when announcing the executive order that further limited local officials' cooperation with ICE.

Brown believes the agency's practices comply with state law, says a spokesman for the governor.

Women’s March on Portland events in 2018. (Daniel Stindt)

The emails contain plenty of exchanges local officials might prefer be kept quiet. They also show federal officials wishing for more credit.

In late October, a man was convicted of sex abuse for throwing semen at women in Portland and Milwaukie. In a series of email exchanges, ICE was credited with helping prosecutors win the case. Prosecutors acknowledge that ICE brought the man to his plea hearing while he was in federal custody awaiting deportation.

"Nice work, [name redacted]," wrote someone who worked for the U.S. attorney for the district of Oregon. "Too bad there was no media coverage on how this situation was worked out."

In a response to the email chain that featured a TV news clip about the conviction, an ICE agent replied, "It is too bad the clip does not talk about how ICE worked with the Multnomah County DA's office to make sure the subject received a conviction."

At least one local agency is fulfilling its pledge of zipped lips when ICE swings by.

Sheriff Reese vowed to cut ties with the federal agency after records revealed three deputies had been feeding intel to immigration agents ("The ICE Storm," WW, Feb. 1, 2017).

Reese largely lived up to his promise, records show.

As early as January 2017, the sheriff began denying ICE requests for mug shots of immigrants in his custody. The sheriff's office also cut off access to the weekly jail booking report that had previously been sent to ICE. Federal agents repeatedly expressed frustration that the sheriff had refused to help.

"Cooperation from Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and probation has recently been reduced from limited to nonexistent," one ICE official complained.

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