The idea of sanctuary has been around, if I had to guess, almost as long as the idea of persecution—they go hand-in-hand, really. But since declaring sanctuary in a church hasn’t had a legal backing since around the 17th century, what do we mean today when we declare a city, county, or university to be a sanctuary?
County Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo explained that in Benton County, “It’s not in the form of a resolution or any binding ordinance, it’s a statement of trying to calm people’s fears.”
“We are an inclusive county, and do want to reassure people that we are not involved in the business of immigration regulation,” said Jaramillo. “That is not our job, and we won’t know it; we would have to ask and that is not something we will do.”
Corvallis School Board chair Alexus McQuillan has been involved in the school district’s own sanctuary resolution. The statement was issued “simply because we had a lot of students and families, and actually staff as well, that were very scared and concerned about immigration status and what might happen.”
“We decided that we wanted to make a statement so that our kids could feel safe in school because we know that kids can learn better when they feel safe and comfortable and included,” she said.
McQuillan explained that although the schools cannot stop federal agents from entering and going about their business, the schools already do not collect immigration information. McQuillan and Superintendent Ryan Noss will be speaking about sanctuary at the City Club meeting on Tuesday,
Oregon State University is in a similar boat. Steve Clark, Vice President of University Relations and Marketing, explained that OSU currently follows all federal laws and procedures, but that does not include rounding up students.
“There are cities and states that have declared themselves sanctuary cities or states, we have said we are a sanctuary university,” he said. “By that we mean that our role is not to engage in law enforcement, it is not to manage the nation’s policies or laws associated with immigration enforcement or immigration law enforcement.”
Qualifications to enroll at OSU include grades, academic achievements, and bars admittance of students with a history of violent conduct. But, Clark explained, “As a university, we don’t admit individuals based upon their immigration status; that is not one of the criteria for admissions.”
As far as law enforcement is concerned, a resolution was issued by the Corvallis Police Department in December outlining their stance against arresting anyone for immigration violations.
As Mayor Biff Traber put it, “It gives you a sense of how, particularly from the police department, how we have been treating individuals.”
However, despite an initial declaration from Corvallis Police Chief Sassaman, we have heard little follow-up. Sassaman declined offers to appear at City Club—an opportunity to communicate the department’s intentions directly with the public. Multiple attempts for comment were made with no reply. Sheriff Jackson and the Benton County Sheriff’s Office have not issued a resolution and did not reply either.
Jaramillo explained that because of current state statutes, like ORS 181A.820, we haven’t resolved to do things differently—though she does not like speaking for law enforcement.
181A.820 reads: “No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency moneys, equipment, or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.”
So, like Traber said, “Yes, it’s not going to change anything because this is already how we were acting as a city government, especially as a police department.”
But with the new administration threatening vindictive actions towards sanctuary cities across the country, should we be worried?
“We do know there may be some exposure because we do get federal funds that come for things like housing or transportation or the airport, but those funds are usually covered by federal appropriations laws and executive orders don’t generally change those, so we don’t know what is going to happen,” said Traber.
“I can’t worry about the unknown, we will wait and see how things progress,” he continued. “That’s why we tried to be very precise about what laws we were describing that we were following and what we were doing.”
And the school district?
“We are at the point now where we are just starting to think about how we handle all that stuff,” said McQuillan. “All I can say about that right now is that I hope that doesn’t become a reality.” She explained that much of their funding is from the state, but that they do get federal funding for inclusion programs and special education.
McQuillan assures us that they will have more answers after preparing for City Club.
“I don’t know that anyone understands what changes are planned by the federal government,” said Clark. “We are all learning everyday what policies the new administration has, so we are watching these with interest.”
Clark reminds us that federal funding plays a large role in education in America. Just last year OSU did research to the tune of $336 million, was awarded a $40 million contract to develop ocean vessels for NSF, and contributed to hundreds of different fields of study.
He said, “We would hope that if policies of a university are in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, then federal law would not be the basis upon which federal funding for research would be decided.”
The good news is that we are not alone.
“Take a look at the United States Conference of Mayors and see what kind of company we’re in, in terms of mayors who have taken such positions, and what kind of support there is for slowing down precipitous action on a major part of this country,” said Traber.
On Jan. 25, the Conference of Mayors and the Major Cities Chiefs Association issued a joint statement of concern stating, “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that denying federal funds to cities to coerce compliance with federal policies may be unconstitutional.”
It very well may be, but at this stage all we can do is wait for the court date. Until then, Benton County and Corvallis are going to keep their commitments to protecting and serving “we the people.”
“We don’t work for Immigration and Naturalization Services, so we are not doing anything differently,” said Traber. “What I am trying to communicate is that we have these laws on the books and we have been following them.”
By Anthony Vitale
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