Anti-immigrant organizing in Oregon intensifies, with a boost from Arpaio

Lindsay Schubiner • Jun 22, 2015
Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Credit Wikipedia)

Members of the Oregon State Legislature with anti-immigrant connections have proposed four new ballot measures for the 2016 election.

In a disturbing sign of increasing collaboration around anti-immigrant goals, the Oregon Republican Party has invited Arizona’s infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to speak at a rally on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Saturday, June 27th. Arpaio is well known for promoting anti-immigrant policies that rely on racial profiling to target Latinos.

The rally is being promoted by Oregonians for Immigration Reform. OFIR is an official state contact group of the Federation for American Immigration Reform —which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — and is behind much of the recent anti-immigrant organizing in Oregon.

OFIR has announced a raffle to “help offset the costs of this event,” with prizes including a book written a signed by Sheriff Arpaio and a private dinner with Arpaio at the home of Oregon State Rep. Greg Barreto. The event organizers will also raffle off a pair of the pink underwear that inmates in Maricopa County are required to wear, a policy Arpaio instituted.

Regarding the pink underwear policy, the ADL noted, “In 2012, a fed­eral appeals court in Ari­zona crit­i­cized this pol­icy, say­ing it seemed to be ‘pun­ish­ment with­out legal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.’ The court also said that it was fair to infer that the jail­ers’ choice of the color pink for the under­wear was a way to stig­ma­tize male pris­on­ers as fem­i­nine.”

A troubling decision for the Oregon Republican Party

In a state in which several GOP members of the legislature voted for SB 833, successful legislation to expand access to driver’s licenses for undocumented Oregon residents, the Oregon Republican Party’s decision to provide a platform for Arpaio and apparently, to work closely with OFIR, is deeply distressing.

Arpaio has become a figurehead of the anti-immigrant movement because of his high-profile work to implement discriminatory policies across Maricopa County. These policies have been contested by the Justice Department, and a federal judge has ruled that Arpaio’s office must stop using racial profiling and must end its immigration enforcement patrols. Arpaio has allegedly violated this court order.

Billboard in Beaverton, Oregon. (Credit: VDARE via Cynthia Kendoll)

The Oregon Republican party’s apparent working relationship with OFIR similarly does not bode well for immigrant rights in Oregon. In 2014, OFIR and its partner group, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses, expended considerable effort to defeat Oregon Ballot Measure 88. This veto referendum subjected SB 833 to a popular vote, with the intention of taking away the newly won access to driver’s licenses for all Oregon residents, regardless of their immigration status.

Due in large part to OFIR’s organizing efforts and support from the national anti-immigrant movement, Ballot Measure 88 failed by a margin of two to one, ensuring that undocumented Oregon residents won’t be able to access drivers licenses.

Measure 88’s failure gave fuel to the national anti-immigrant movement, and we are already seeing their attempts to replicate this success in other states. That makes Oregon a particularly important battleground state where wins for immigrant rights-or failures-can reverberate nationally.

A sign of more anti-immigrant organizing to come

To build on the momentum from Measure 88’s failure, members of the Oregon State Legislature with anti-immigrant connections have proposed four new ballot measures for the 2016 election. Two ballot measures would designate English as the official language in Oregon, and two would, in effect, mandate the use of E-Verify by Oregon employers. It is likely that these proposals are placeholders, and that only one ballot measure on each topic will actually move forward.

The measures were proposed by Rep. Sal Esquivel, a primary opponent of Measure 88 with strong ties to the anti-immigrant movement; Sen. Kim Thatcher, a member of the anti-immigrant group State Legislators for Legal Immigration; Rep. Mike Nearman, a member at large of OFIR’s board; and Jim Ludwick, a founder and former president of OFIR, as well as OFIR’s current director of communications and legislative liaison. Each of them was active in the Measure 88 fight.

So, why are these new ballot measures anti-immigrant?

E-Verify is an important tool in the anti-immigrant movement’s quest to achieve “attrition through enforcement,” also known as “self-deportation.” It is an electronic employment-verification program that is primarily voluntary, although certain states have made its use by employers mandatory. The anti-immigrant movement hopes to use E-Verify to make life so impossible for undocumented immigrants that they are forced to leave the U.S.

These renewed initiatives incite fear of immigrants and generate popular support for broader measures to exclude immigrants.

Similarly, efforts to designate English as the official language have long been part of the organized anti-immigrant movement’s strategy. The U.S. remains an English-majority country, and English-speakers in the U.S. are not in danger of losing access to government services or benefits based on language skills. So why is the anti-immigrant movement introducing “English as the official language” initiatives? Because these initiatives incite fear of immigrants and generate popular support for broader measures to exclude immigrants. They can also restrict non-English speakers’ access to government services, and even prevent government agencies from reaching out to non-English speaking communities.

These ballot measures are indeed worrisome, but with a strong immigrant rights community in Oregon, the anti-immigrant movement has their work cut out for them. Imagine2050 will continue to track the ballot measures and the anti-immigrant organizing around them, so stay tuned.

Lindsay Schubiner is the Senior Program Manager at the Center for New Community.

Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation, via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons. Photo has been cropped.

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