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A ruling is expected within a month on a 2017 lawsuit that alleges the regional jail violated Oregon’s “sanctuary” law by housing immigration detainees.
Wasco County Circuit Court Judge John Wolf said at the conclusion of a Thursday hearing, in which both sides asked the case be ruled in their favor, that he expected whatever decision he reached to be appealed, so he wanted to take the time to carefully lay out his reasoning in a written opinion. A heavy trial schedule could push it out as much as four weeks, he said.
Four Wasco County taxpayers sued the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility in July 2017, alleging the use of their tax dollars by the regional jail violated a state law barring the use of state or local resources to “detect or apprehend” people whose only violation is being in the country illegally.
The lawsuit alleges the jail’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) violates the state’s 31-year-old “sanctuary law” and should be terminated.
Attorneys argued over whether the four taxpayers had grounds to even bring the lawsuit, and also over the meaning of the term “apprehend” and whether the jail was a law enforcement “agency” or a law enforcement “unit.”
Kimberlee Petrie-Volm, an attorney for the jail, argued that under state law it is unlawful to misappropriate tax dollars, but that particular law does not allow taxpayers to sue. Another type of relief, called equitable remedy — which doesn’t seek money, but rather that a practice be barred — requires that plaintiffs show personal injury, she said.
She said that if the only underlying claim is having status as a taxpayer, adverse fiscal consequences need to be shown.
Stephen Walters of the Oregon Law Center, an attorney for the taxpayers, said there is basis to show economic injury. He said the regional jail estimated it costs $97 a day to house an inmate, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only paid $80 per day to the jail to house detainees.
That’s a “shortfall” that is picked up by local taxpayers, he said.
The four taxpayers are Brian Stovall, John Olmstead, Connie Krummrich and Karen Brown.
Petrie-Volm said that $97 vs. $80 statistic was being misconstrued, and that the ICE contract actually lessens the taxpayer burden. A jail official said in depositions that the contract brought in $900,000 for the jail.
Walters added that the right to obtain equitable relief without showing economic harm is longstanding in Oregon. Petrie-Volm said the two sides had a “fundamental disagreement” over whether that was the case.
Walters said the only areas of dispute between the parties were whether the jail was a law enforcement agency — the jail says it is not, the plaintiffs say it is — and what the meaning of “apprehend” is.
Whether the jail is a law enforcement agency or not is key because the sanctuary law starts with the words “No law enforcement agency shall...”
Walters argued it was undisputed that jails are the custody arm of sheriff’s offices, and are therefore part of a law enforcement agency. He said there is no distinction between the custodial and investigative sides of a sheriff’s office.
Walters said the law enforcement process doesn’t end with arrest, but includes incarceration, trial and conviction.
Petrie-Volm said the law was talking specifically about “active policing,” or things police officers do. The law deals with activities corrections officers at a jail aren’t able to do, she said.
Walters said a key point in the process of creating the sanctuary law was when a legislator clarified that enforcement activities don’t end with arrest. “That’s exactly what NORCOR is doing. They are participating in a stage of the enforcement proceedings,” he said.
The law instructs state and local police agencies not to be involved in the enforcement of immigration law.
The 1987 sanctuary law arose from a 1977 state attorney general’s opinion that held officers should not enforce federal civil violations of immigration law. It arose from concerns about racial profiling.
The law went beyond the attorney general’s opinion, and said officers could not participate in any aspect of federal immigration enforcement, Walters said.
Petrie-Volm argued the jail was never intended to be considered a law enforcement agency. She said the thrust of the sanctuary law was to prevent police officers from doing immigration enforcement, something they are untrained in.
She said the statute doesn’t mention anything relating to housing inmates. Rather, its purpose was to ensure untrained officers were not using independent judgment to decide who was and wasn’t in the U.S. legally. The context made it clear that corrections was not the focus of the law, she said.
Kimberlee argued the common meaning of “apprehend” prevails, and is the “initial taking into custody” of a prisoner.
She said corrections officers are defined as being part of a law enforcement unit, but not a law enforcement agency.
Walters said the key phrase of the law was that it barred the use of state or local resources “for the purpose of” apprehending those only in the U.S. illegally.
Walters contended the jail is a necessary part of apprehending someone, since once they are arrested, they need to be housed.