In response to reports of collaboration between the Lane County Sheriff’s Office and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities, several dozen protesters occupied the square outside the sheriff’s office last Friday.
Lead by student union Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) of the University of Oregon, the demonstrators demanded an end to the association, which the group says involves LCSO passing inmate information to ICE and literal “back entrance access” to the Lane County Jail for ICE to conduct arrests.
UO MEChA political director Yomaira Tarula said the cooperation is a violation of Oregon's sanctuary state legislation, which restricts the use of state law enforcement resources for federal immigration control.
“The sheriff's office, they are public servants,” Tarula said. “They're supposed to be serving the community, and they are not doing that.”
According to a press release from the advocacy group Innovation Law Lab, the protest effort began after local attorneys spread the word that the sheriff's office was aiding in ICE arrests. A variety of different activist, political and social groups then signed a letter addressed to LCSO calling for the practice to cease.
“There have been so many injustices with immigration,” Tarula said, “and the fact that the sheriff's office thinks they can break the law without the community finding out is just ridiculous.”
Friday's event marked the first protest over this issue, with activists from the Eugene community and UO joining forces. MEChA organized student transports for the occasion and informed the campus community by social media. Despite low temperatures and rain, the atmosphere was fervent, with chanting, poem recitations and music, while participants demanded justice for immigrants and other marginalized communities.
“We had a good turnout of the community and those in solidarity,” Tarula said after the event. “It was good. We were being loud, and we showed our presence.”
Eugene resident Pamela Krause signalled to passing traffic while displaying a hand-made sign that read “no human being is illegal.”
“I certainly hope it will raise more awareness,” she said. “It's necessary to be out here, because people shouldn't be treated differently.”
Joel Iboa, coalition coordinator with the immigrants right group Causa Oregon, described the protest as a step in working for trust between law enforcement and the community.
“Our hope is that no one, regardless of their immigration status, should be afraid to contact the police,” Iboa said. “Hopefully, this will convince the sheriff that what they're doing isn't right.”
Although the Lane County Sheriff's Office could not be reached for comment, there are plans for discussion between the community and the county court on this matter. A public meeting with county commissioners is planned for Feb. 12, according to Iboa.
For now, Tarula says that the fight for immigrant rights will continue.
“We're always ready to respond and defend the community and our rights. Whether they listen or not, we will take action,” she said. “We're very energized about it, and I think it it will reinforce within the community that this is not okay.”