Reasons Why the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Should Not Enforce Immigration Law

Immigrant Detention
The exterior of the Northwest Detention Center. Credit: Seattle Globalist

Oregon’s Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a Stakeholder Review of its policy of not using MCSO resources and personnel to enforcement law.

This is welcome news after reports that a sheriff’s deputy assisted ICE in detaining a man at the county’s Justice Center when he was due to appear for a court-mandated appointment. Public safety and the civil rights of our community depend on law enforcement refusing to enforce immigration law.
Powerful arguments from political philosophy support a strict separation between local and state law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. Most prominently, Joseph Carens has argued for a firewall that prevents contact between immigration enforcement and agencies such as the MCSO that are responsible for protecting our civil and human rights. Here are some of the reasons why a building this firewall is morally necessary.

First, a firewall is necessary to protect people who may not have status to reside in the country (or may not have been able to establish their status).

What often gets lost in the rhetoric that dehumanizes immigrants is that all people have civil rights and human rights, including the right to security.

If people believe that cooperating with law enforcement will lead to their deportation, they are vulnerable to human trafficking and to exploitation from unscrupulous employers. When ICE detains a woman seeking protection from domestic abuse, women lose the power to shield themselves and their children from violence. Denying people protection from violent crimes is wrong, whatever their immigration status.

Second, immigration enforcement does not only affect immigrants.

It affects everyone who is at risk of being profiled as an unauthorized immigrant. American citizens who were unable to convince ICE officials of their status have been deported. This creates fear, distrust, and division and undermines the security of millions of citizens and permanent residents who may find themselves unjustly detained.

Third, a firewall between law enforcement and immigration enforcement makes everyone safer.

People without status will be unwilling to report crimes they have witnessed or refuse to testify if they fear appearing in court. Successful law enforcement depends on trust and anything that undermines this trust puts us all at risk.

Finally, people without legal status have often been members of our communities for years or decades.

They are parents, spouses, neighbors, colleagues, students, parishioners, and much else. If they are detained or deported, everybody who cares about them is also harmed. This is particularly devastating for families where the detention or deportation or one or both parents exposes children (who are often American citizens) to trauma and to poverty (including losing their home).
There are many reasons to believe that indiscriminate immigration enforcement is unjust. One does not need to endorse open borders to insist that it is necessary to re-establish clear priorities for immigration enforcement and to create much needed paths that allow people to regularize their status. In the meanwhile, agencies such as the MCSO responsible for protecting our communities should not participate in damaging them by enforcing unjust laws.

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