Nearly Half of Oregon’s Sheriffs Signed A Letter Invoking Mollie Tibbitts’ Name and Calling to Repeal The State’s Sanctuary Law

The letter invokes the Tibbitts murder in Iowa to argue against Oregon's sanctuary law, despite her family's plea not to use the young woman as a political talking point.

Federal agents guard the ICE building in Southwest Portland. (Sam Gehrke)

Nearly half of Oregon's 36 sheriffs signed on to a letter supporting an effort to repeal the state's 31-year-old sanctuary law, which bars local and state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration laws.

"The statute undermines respect for the law in significant ways," writes Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Burgin.

The letter encourages Oregonians to vote for Measure 105, which would repeal the law, in November.

It also invokes the murder of a 20-year-old Iowa woman who was allegedly killed by an undocumented man, despite her family's objection to using her death as a political talking point in debates on immigration policy.

"Mollie Tibbetts' recent murder has refocused attention on the violence and heartbreak illegal-immigrant criminals can visit on Americans and their families," Burgin writes. "Oregon's sanctuary statute not only compounds that neglect, but issues a de facto invitation to illegal immigrants to settle in our state."

Fifteen other sheriffs signed on to Burgin's letter from Gilliam, Harney, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Malheur, Douglas, Curry, Coos, Klamath, Union, Grant, Wheeler, Lake and Deschutes counties.

Those counties represent less than 20 percent of the state's population, says Oregon economist Christian Kaylor.

But in 2014, when Oregon voted on a referendum that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses, the voters rejected it in a landslide.

Emails obtained by WW through a Freedom of Information Act request show that some of these sheriffs, and many other law enforcement agencies in Oregon, already communicate and share information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Oregon's 31-year-old sanctuary law bars local law enforcement agencies from using local or state resources to help federal officials enforce immigration laws. That bars law enforcement officers from aiding in arrests of people wanted only on immigration violations.

Although these 16 sheriffs support the repeal of that law, many other Oregon officials have come out strongly in favor of sanctuary protections. Multnomah County officials, including Sheriff Mike Reese, have very publicly supported the state's protections for undocumented individuals. Portland also voted to become a sanctuary city last year.

And even in the counties where sheriffs are in favor of repeal, some other officials are not. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, for example, has spoken out against the repeal.

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