Illegal Arrests: Getting Beyond Rights

July 1, 2009

Focus_July2by Sarah K. Loose

What’s to be done when people’s basic constitutional and human rights are violated by the very folks whose job it is to protect them?

At a recent Rural Organizing Project (ROP) board retreat, community leaders from across the state described a pattern of problematic interactions between local law enforcement, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents, and immigrant community members. In Central Oregon, ICE is illegally placing “detainers” (also known as “immigration holds”) requiring local police to hold immigrant community members until ICE agents can transport them to a detention facility.

Liberty Checkup by Natalie Whitson

Liberty Checkup by Natalie Whitson

Illegal Arrests Plague Oregon Immigrants

Jorge Hernandez of Centro de Ayuda and Rennie Ferris of Coastal Progressives, who both live and work in Lincoln County, related their community’s struggle to confront an illegal arrest by local sheriff’s officers that landed one Newport community member in the Tacoma Detention Center. Ferris, who is a board member of Oregon PeaceWorks, has also described an arrest at a restaurant in Lincoln City that was apparently initiated by racial profiling, something police are no longer supposed to be doing. Frank Roa and Darrell Alston of Umatilla Morrow Alternatives also described how local police officers in Morrow County are targeting people of color in baseless traffic stops, with dire consequences for the individuals affected.

Racial profiling, the practice of using race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion as the primary factor in deciding who to subject to law enforcement investigations, is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment. It also detracts law enforcement resources from the detection of real threats and builds awall of distrust between minokafoury3402rity communities and police departments.

While Oregon has sought to address the problem of racial profiling by passing laws which encourage data collection pertaining to minorities who are stopped for age restricted license and seat belt violations, Oregon has not sought to make data collection mandatory or to ban the practice of racial profiling. According to Amnesty International, protection from racial profiling in Oregon is “virtually none.”

Beyond “Know Your Rights”

Know Your Rights trainings have long been a tool designed to teach immigrants and people of color what their rights are, but today we are seeing that just being educated about your rights does not mean that they will be respected. That’s why, with leadership from folks like Jorge, Rennie, Frank, and Darrell, ROP has formed a work group to go beyond know your rights.

Rooted in ROP’s legacy of protecting the basic human dignity and human rights of all members of our community, ROP recognizes the need to respond to hurtful and destructive statewide law enforcement tactics with a united voice. Together we are developing and testing new strategies and tools to help rural immigrant communities and their allies assert, defend and expand their rights. From community accountability meetings to documentation and tracking systems to community surveys and forums, rural Oregonians are tackling abuses head on, even as they work for the more systemic change we all hope will come through a just and inclusive overhaul of our nation’s immigration system.

Fortunately, there is also a handful of allies within local law enforcement agencies who realize the wisdom of prioritizing good working relationships with people of color and immigrants in their communities. For example, take Marion County Sheriff Russ Isham, who recently turned down an ICE contract to house immigrant detainees in the county jail. (Check out a follow-up letter that the ROP board sent to the rest of Oregon’s 36 County Sheriffs, highlighting Isham’s decision and encouraging them to follow suit).

Are you interested in learning more? Do you have a story or experience to share from your own community? Are you interested in the opportunity to connect with other rural community leaders that are addressing similar problems? Get in touch with sarah@rop.org to find out more about ROP’s Beyond Know Your Rights work. Φ

ROP is a statewide organization of locally-based groups that work to create communities accountable to a standard of human dignity: the belief in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice, and the right to self-determination.

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