SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Hispanic members of the Legislature vowed Wednesday to defend Latinos in the state, including those who entered the country illegally.
In a ceremony marking Hispanic Heritage Month in Oregon, Brown denounced U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' comments he made to law enforcement officials in Oregon. Sessions urged locales whose police don't cooperate with federal immigration agents to reconsider their policies, and said federal grant money cannot be given to sanctuary cities.
"The comments that Attorney General Jeff Sessions made yesterday while in Portland do nothing to make America great," Brown said. "Instead, they incite fear and chaos, and undermine Oregon's workforce and our economy."
Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, the first immigrant to be elected to the Oregon Legislature, said the state's Latino population has increased 72 percent since 2000 and the number of businesses owned by Latinos rose by 44 percent between 2007 and 2012, with Latinos in Oregon owning over 6,000 businesses.
"We are growing. We are powerful, and we are here to stay," said Alonso Leon, adding: "It is important to build a better future for those who come after us."
Alonso Leon, a Democrat who is from the predominantly Latino town of Woodburn, was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico as a child. Her family gained permanent residence status under a Reagan-era amnesty. She became a U.S. citizen in 2012.
Rep. Diego Hernandez, a Democrat representing Portland, told those gathered in Brown's ceremonial office, including the consuls from Mexico and Guatemala, that there is "a lot of hate and xenophobia in our communities, especially here in Oregon."
Hernandez said he has gone through a rough period. Hernandez was recently cleared of a rumor that he maintained a list of female lobbyists, ranking them by "attractiveness and certain physical attributes," Willamette Week, a Portland newspaper, reported Tuesday. Hernandez has said the rumor was due to racism, prompted by his Latino heritage and because he advocates for immigrant rights.
He had requested the inquiry to verify the allegations and identify the source of the rumor. The office of the legislative counsel said in a letter that the investigation had shown the rumor was false, but that investigators were unable to identify the source.
Meanwhile, a group called Oregonians for Immigration Reform is seeking signatures of registered Oregon voters to place a measure onto the November 2018 statewide ballot that would seek to repeal a 30-year-old statute that made Oregon America's first sanctuary state. The law prohibits law enforcement from detaining people who are in the U.S. illegally but have not broken other laws.
Oregonians for Immigration Reform said it needs 88,184 signatures.
"Illegal aliens can and do harm the American citizens to whom Oregon owes its foremost responsibility," the group's website said. "For this reason, enforcement of U.S. immigration law is central to the duties of Oregon's police departments and sheriff's offices."
However the ACLU of Oregon says the law means immigrants can go to police, without fearing deportation, when they are a victim of a crime or witness one.