Oregon Democrats in Congress Tell U.S. Justice Department to Stop Bullying the State on Sanctuary Policies

The Democratic congressional delegation from Oregon today told the U.S. Department of Justice to stop bullying the state by threatening to withhold federal funds if Oregon doesn’t dismantle policies that bar local officials from aiding the feds in immigration-related investigations.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden joined U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio in writing a letter that warned the DOJ that its tactics were “harmful and retaliatory” and that a federal judge had previously barred such efforts to coerce state policies.

“The Department of Justice has a mandate to serve and protect, yet it continues to undermine safety and instill fear,” says Blumenauer. “Oregon will not cave under this pressure. We’re going to fight to keep our communities together.”

The DOJ sent a letter to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission on Nov. 15, demanding the state answer questions about whether its laws violated a rule associated with funds that come from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. If the laws did violate the rules, the letter suggested that grants for fiscal year 2017 might be withheld from the state.

The back-and-forth between local officials and the federal agency is the latest flashpoint in an ongoing battle over what immigration enforcement should look like in the US.

Oregon officials have largely maintained that the state shouldn’t be involved in enforcing federal civil immigration laws. Leaders in the Trump Administration have condemned the lack of cooperation from sanctuary jurisdictions like Oregon, and have consistently tried to defy and defame the state.

“Threats to withhold these critical funds severely jeopardizes state and local efforts to adequately protect the citizens of Oregon,” the Oregon lawmakers wrote in their response to the DOJ. “The state of Oregon and a number of local jurisdictions were scheduled to receive approximately $3 million in Byrne JAG funding for FY17.”

In 2016, Oregon took about $2,080,047 from the grant program. The funds support local law enforcement efforts, including drug treatment, mental health treatment and crime prevention programs.