On November 6, 2018, Oregon voters will join the national debate on immigration by voting to decide whether the state should nullify its law prohibiting local law enforcement from collaborating with federal immigration enforcement to prosecute immigrants who are in the country illegally.
On July 17, Oregon election officials announced Initiative Petition 22—a measure to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary state policy, more formally known as ORS 181A.820—will appear on the ballot in the upcoming election, OPB reported. The sanctuary state policy has been controversial since it went on the books in 1987, but this is the first time the general public will vote on it. The ballot measure has already attracted heated debate.
The measure’s main sponsor, Oregonians for Immigration Reform, has been categorized as an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. OFIR cofounder Jim Ludwick contested this classification. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has never published what they think a hate group is,” he said. However, an article on the SPLC’s website defines a hate group as “an organization that—based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities—has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Tanton, a former ophthalmologist and longtime political activist, has condemned “unsavory characters whose views can easily be characterized as anti-American, anti-Semitic and outright racist.” However, in 1983, he wrote to a friend, “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that,” The New York Times reported. The belief that national identity must be formed around a white majority is one of the tenets of white nationalism. In 1979, Tanton founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which later provided seed funding for multiple anti-immigration organizations around the country, including OFIR.
When asked about OFIR’s relationship with Tanton, Ludwick said he had “never spoken to John Tanton, [and] never met him.” Ludwick framed his support for the initiative in terms of what he calls the rule of law. “When somebody is breaking the law, they should be held accountable,” Ludwick said. “Every nation has a sovereign right to decide its own immigration policies.”
Similar to Tanton, Ludwick blamed immigration for causing overpopulation and generally decreasing the quality of life in the United States. “The quality of life has suffered greatly, and I don’t think we can continue down that path. I think we have to have a different policy on immigration.”
Ludwick also pointed to high-profile crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, including the highly publicized trial of Sergio Martinez, who attacked two Portland women in 2017. Similar arguments are common among anti-immigration advocates, but statistics show undocumented immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.
Ludwick also denied knowledge of misleading signature-gathering by Ballot Access Marketing, LLC, a firm hired by OFIR to collect signatures in support of the ballot measure. Ballot Access Marketing is currently under criminal investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice after a signature gatherer was caught misleading potential signers about the content of the initiative.
Oregonians will vote by mail on the ballot measure in November, as is standard in the state. No polls are currently available assessing the likelihood that the measure will pass, but a coalition that includes Nike, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Portland Business Alliance has already formed to oppose it.