Justice Department threatens to cut Oregon federal grant funds over immigration policies
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The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday that the state of Oregon and Multnomah County are among so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that could lose public safety grants unless they prove they don't have laws and policies that allow withholding information from immigration agents.

A preliminary review found that sections of Multnomah County Sheriff's Office policy, a state statute and a recently signed state law that expands sanctuary protections could violate federal law, the Justice Department said in letters requesting a response by Dec. 8.

The state and county must prove they're following federal immigration law or risk losing Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant money, the letters said. The state was allocated more than $4 million over the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years to distribute to cities and counties for crime reduction and prevention...

"Jurisdictions that adopt so-called 'sanctuary policies' also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the role of law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement...

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the state is in compliance with federal law...

"These threats by the White House administration to revoke funding to states and to local law enforcement agencies have already been ruled unconstitutional in two federal courts," Brown said.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese has said federal and state laws prevent people being detained in Oregon jails based only on a request by immigration officials to hold them. He said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials can seek a criminal warrant signed by a federal judge to keep defendants in custody until their case is resolved.

County sheriff's offices operate most of the jails in Oregon.

The issue became a point of contention during the summer when a man with a lengthy criminal history who had been deported from the U.S. to Mexico 12 times was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting two women in Portland.

ICE officials said Sergio Jose Martinez had been booked and released from the Multnomah County jail at least six times before the alleged attacks and agents were never notified by the Sheriff's Office despite asking to know when he was released.

Reese said the jail would have held Martinez if ICE had provided a criminal warrant. Sessions criticized the Sheriff's Office during a visit to Portland in September.

Oregon cities and counties received at least $905,000 under the grant in 2016, with about $466,000 of that going to Portland and Gresham in Multnomah County, according to Justice Department records.

In its application that year, Portland said it would use the money to hire a police crime analyst, retain a deputy district attorney and a probation officer, contract with a service to aid women involved in prostitution-related offenses and buy Tasers, digital signs and camera equipment.

At least $910,000 this year went to Oregon cities and counties, including nearly $386,000 to Portland and Gresham....

The Justice Department said the jurisdictions agreed to comply with federal law when accepting the grant money.

The department cites possible violations of section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, which says a federal, state or local government can't restrict sending or receiving information on the citizenship or immigration status of a person.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January denying federal funding to sanctuary cities....

Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have been among cities that have since sued the Justice Department over the funding restrictions.

A federal judge on Wednesday barred the Justice Department from blocking grants to Philadelphia. Another federal judge in Chicago previously issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring the Justice Department from adding new grant conditions requiring cities to give jail access to immigration officials and advance notice when people believed to be in the country illegally are about to be released.

Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney in Oregon, wrote a commentary piece in August warning that the state's sanctuary status "directly contravenes federal immigration law and threatens public safety." He cites the Byrne grant as an example of federal money that could go away and said preventable crimes would continue to occur without action.
503-221-8343; @EvertonBailey

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