Oregon has been a “sanctuary state” for 31 years. This means that state and local resources cannot be used to enforce federal immigration laws. For some in the community this is a point of contention, but for many others like Yema Measho—Corvallis’s only immigration attorney—this is part of what makes Oregon and Corvallis so great. However, the state of our state may change this winter.
IP 22, called the “Stop Oregon Sanctuaries” campaign to repeal the “sanctuary” law, has qualified for the November ballot. If repealed, local and state law enforcement agencies will have the option to use their resources to enforce federal immigration priorities.
With this recent news, we at The Advocate have been thinking more about immigration and all the aspects so many of us are unaware of as citizens. To learn more about the legal work, common misconceptions of immigrants, and what Corvallis residents can do to support immigrants, we turned to the uniquely positioned Measho for a closer look.
What an Immigration Attorney Does
Most of Measho’s work involves family-based and employment-based immigration. Family-based immigration refers to U.S. citizens sponsoring immediate family members—spouses, parents or children under age 21—to gain legal status in the U.S. Measho also works on student visas, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), occasional deportation cases, and a small number of asylum cases.
One visa most people seeking legal status aren’t aware of is the U-Visa, which is specifically for victims of certain crimes—such as domestic violence or human trafficking—who have suffered mental or physical abuse and have cooperated with law enforcement as the crime is investigated. Measho says this visa was created in 2000 as a way to support people who might otherwise be afraid of reporting a crime because of their immigration status.
Changes since the Trump administration took office
According to Measho, the immigration laws themselves have not changed. “If you qualified for family-based immigration four years ago, you qualify today,” she says. The menu of options for gaining legal status in the U.S. remains the same. What has changed is how those laws are enforced: “Some of it is tightening,” says Measho. “Lots of small changes are taking place through policy memos and executive orders—you have to keep up-to-date.”
One huge change is that DACA has stopped accepting new applications. Those who currently have DACA status can renew; those who haven’t applied or were too young to apply can no longer do so.
For Measho personally, the biggest change in her day-to-day are the increased number of calls when new enforcement rules hit the media. “People are anxious,” she says. “They want to know, what does this mean for me? For my family?”
Busting Myths about Immigrants
Measho often consults in confidence with immigrants and undocumented people seeking status. “I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t want some kind of legal status,” she says. “Most people I come in contact with, if there is a way, even if it takes 20 years, they will do it. But if you fall outside of the [available pathways], there are no options.”
Contrary to a common misconception, says Measho, “if you are not documented, social services are not available to you. You don’t qualify for Oregon Health Plan or [support programs such as disability, SNAP, and so on].”
Theory vs. Practice
Measho says that theories around immigration enforcement are very different from reality. For example, in 2014, Oregon voters killed an initiative that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for four-year driver’s licenses. “In reality, in my practice, I see people who live in our community, who work here, drive to and from school, go grocery shopping,” says Measho. “They want to get a driver’s license, they want to pay car insurance, but they can’t because they have no license.”
In response to this restriction, Measho has seen someone using a bike to commute from 2-3 jobs and to pick up their kids from nursery school. “It’s one thing when you have a choice, and you choose to bike,” she says. “It’s another if you don’t have that choice.”
What can people do to support immigrants locally?
Measho gets this question every time a new immigration issue surfaces. When the travel ban hit the news, Measho recommended people contribute to the ACLU. She said the same thing when children were being separated from their parents at the border. These large issues require coordinated and organized response efforts.
“There’s a lot of people willing to help,” says Measho. “I think Corvallis is uniquely a great place for immigrants. I see that working with the law enforcement agency here. As hard as the work is, it’s great to work in such a supportive city.”
As for IP 22, Measho says what she has been saying for the past two years: “Make sure you vote. If people don’t vote, it will have real consequences and pose real issues for people living among us.”
This information is not meant to be legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney. Yema Measho’s office can be found on the corner of Monroe and 5th.
By Alisha Wang Saville