Malheur County sheriff backs repeal of state sanctuary law

Malheur County Sheriff’s Office deputy Sgt. Greg Romans (left) laughs at a comment from Sheriff Brian Wolfe last week. Wolfe recently signed a letter that calls for the repeal of the state’s sanctuary law. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – Sheriff Brian Wolfe said he does not want to start rounding up undocumented immigrants.

That stance may seem to be at odds with Wolfe’s recent support of a letter that urges the dismantling of the state’s 30-year-old sanctuary law.

Last month, 15 of Oregon’s 36 sheriffs signed a letter that appeals for support of Ballot Measure 105, a proposal on the November ballot that will revoke the state’s sanctuary edict. Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin penned the letter. Sheriffs from Gilliam, Harney, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Douglas, Curry, Coos, Klamath, Union, Grant, Wheeler, Lake and Deschutes counties signed the letter.

The current law blocks police in the state from using money, equipment or people to find and detain undocumented immigrants. 

Even if voters repeal the law, “Nothing changes,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said he signed the letter in support of a repeal of the law so he can coordinate better with federal immigration authorities and “we are not hamstrung.”

Sometimes, he said, the sheriff’s office needs to work with immigration authorities to get bad people deported.

“Occasionally we have those people who need to be gone from our country,” said Wolfe.

Now, said Wolfe, his office does not ask an individual detained on local charges if they are in the country illegally. However, he said, when a person is fingerprinted “if they are not here legally a hit will go to immigration.”

“We ask them where they were born but not if they are here legally or not,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said he doesn’t support round ups of undocumented immigrants.

 “We know that there are people in our county that don’t have the credentials to be here,” he said.

He said he has no interest in seeking and detaining people who “are gainfully employed.”

“Some of their children go to our schools. Some of them are doing work that no one else has a desire to do. So, they are needed in our communities. It is not our intent or interest, nor would we, start rounding people up,” said Wolfe.

He said he has received feedback on his move to sign the letter.

“It is all over the board. Some think we should go out and round up everybody even if they are providing a service no one else want to provide,” said Wolfe.

He said he disagrees. 

“I would have no interest in grabbing a couple of parents and deporting them and leaving their family here,” said Wolfe.

His views seem to contradict Bergin’s letter. Bergin wrote that the state sanctuary law “undermines respect for law in significant ways. It tells illegal immigrants that Oregon considers immigration-law violations so inconsequential as to be unworthy of police and sheriff’s attention.”

Wolfe said “a lot of folks are trying to make a lot of smoke out of it.”

“The argument is that it (repeal of the sanctuary law) will create more bias and more racial profiling. I just don’t see that. It won’t be the case in Malheur County, I can tell you that,” said Wolfe. 

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.