During the March 22 Florence City Council Work Session, councilors chose not to include an agenda item submitted by Councilor Ron Preisler asking city staff to prepare a draft ordinance similar to the “Ordinance Concerning Protections for Individuals” recently approved by the Eugene City Council.
Preisler’s letter states, “The city manager is asked to prepare a draft ordinance to prohibit all city employees from using public resources to enforce immigration laws and, or collect information about an individual’s political, religious or social views.”
On Feb. 3, City of Florence issued a press release in response to Executive Order 13768 signed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 25, which states, “It is the policy of the executive branch to empower state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
That executive order directly conflicts with language in the Oregon Revised Statutes, (ORS) and the Florence City Charter.
The city’s press release states, “The Florence Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws and we will continue to follow state laws regarding immigration.”
ORS 181A.820 states, “No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision (city or county) 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.”
In February, Florence Mayor Henry said, “That statute has been in place since 1987, and unless the Oregon legislature changes it, that law will continue to prohibit Oregon police officers from acting as immigration enforcement officers.”
At that time, Henry said a recent legal analysis of ORS 181A.820 by the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association supported that position.
A lively but civil discussion between councilors, city staff and the mayor took place prior to Preisler’s withdrawing the proposed agenda item.
Preisler said the reason he wanted to have the proposal on the agenda was because, “I have heard from a number of Latinos — people here in Florence — that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has come into town and has upset many of them.
“People are afraid they will be picked up in an immigration raid, whether they are undocumented, or documented. We need to show the citizens of our city that we care about them.”
Henry said he was concerned that the current administration in Washington, D.C., indicated that it would withhold funds to sanctuary cities.
“Whether that will come to pass, I don’t know,” he said. “Should it come to pass, and we apply for grants, how is that going to affect our grants down the road?”
In response, Preisler said, “I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I do know that it is illegal for them to do that. And I do know that Oregon is a sanctuary state.”
Councilor George Lyddon said, “What we are being asked to do, as other sanctuary cities have been doing is ignoring a portion of law. Is that anarchy or is it not?”
Preisler responded, “That’s a question above my pay grade.”
City Manager Erin Reynolds said, “This comes down to a matter of addressing people’s fears. That is why we issued that press release on Feb. 3. Simply put, City of Florence personnel and the police department are not tasked to enforce federal immigration law. There is already a state law that states that.”
She quoted Florence Police Department’s policy manual: ‘This department does not participate in routine immigration investigations and enforcement activities. Members shall treat all individuals equally and without regard to race, color or national origin in any way that would violate the United States or Oregon constitutions.”
“There is no legal reason for city council to take action in this area, because state law already governs the city’s actions,” Reynolds said.
She added, “If the city council wants to take further action on this, it is really a policy decision that would generally reaffirm the city’s position, but would draw attention to this subject, with no legal impact.”
Lyddon said, “Why bring all this havoc when we are already doing what we are supposed to? It wouldn’t be changing a thing, except be putting a sign up that says we are a sanctuary city.”
Police Chief Tom Turner said, “Operations are not changing. We are following state law. We have a strong ally in our governor. She is going to follow state law and that is what we are going to do.”
According to Turner, ICE is a separate law enforcement agency that does not work with or coordinate with local law enforcement.
Councilor Suzy Lacer said, “I am sympathetic to concerns that our residents might have.”
She suggested the possibility of a proclamation or other gesture of support, and Henry said he would be happy to do a proclamation that would reinforce the position stated by the police department.
Florence resident Cal Applebee said the 20 percent of the Florence population that are veterans might take offense at such a proclamation.
Lyddon said, “I predict we will see a huge backlash, if this goes forward, not just from the military, but we have a lot of retired people in this community that will go ballistic. I don’t think it is worth it, when we are already doing it, according to state law.”
Henry then asked Preisler if he still wanted to move forward with the proposed ordinance.
Preisler said, “Right now, it looks like the temperature of the council is against me, so I will say no.”
Councilor Joshua Greene was out of town and did not participate in the discussion.
After the meeting, Preisler said, “I wish that the full council had been present and had had the opportunity to study the proposal before it was voted upon.”