On Wednesday, June 16, the Council passed a Resolution calling for two actions:
1) Authorize the City Attorney to work with volunteer legal counsel to write an amicus brief in the lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, now enacted into law there;
2) Ask Portland's Government Relations staff to work at the Oregon Legislature to pass laws prohibiting racial profiling in traffic and pedestrian stops.
My comments at the hearing:
We have been considering over the 17 months that I've been in office, how we help people at different cultural backgrounds and immigrants and refugees in our city of Portland. The State of Black Oregon report published last year, showed no progress in equalizing opportunities for African Americans in 17 years. Other states, our neighbors to the north and south, Washington and California, along with 15 other states, including Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma, have laws that prohibit racial profiling of pedestrians and motorists, yet Oregon, along with 28 other states, has yet to put legislation on the books prohibiting racial profiling. And for both traffic stops and pedestrian stops, we know that in Multnomah County, people of color are disproportionately stopped by police officers and disproportionately convicted and incarcerated.
We have been working on the City Council to address that, and now we want the State government to address racial profiling, so that we put our own house in order in Oregon at the same time that we ask for our City Attorney and volunteer legal partners to look into the constitutionality of the Arizona law and clarify if it's Constitutional. It's in everyone's best interests to ask the courts to rule on that issue, so we all understand its mandate or limitations, and so that we can work together on the shared value of safe, livable communities. The City Attorney works on salary, so no additional taxpayer dollars will be spent clarifying the Constitutionality of the Arizona law.
I am an immigrant. I am from England, and yet looking at me, you can't tell that. It seems incongruent to me that people whose skin color is different from mine should have disproportional impacts in traffic stops than I do. So that was why I asked our government relations staff to look into changes that might be needed in state law.
We also need changes in federal legislation, making our immigration laws such that people could comply with them. Immigrating legally is very, very difficult. When I came here, I came first on a working visa to work in a children's camp in New Jersey for the summer. I had to take the bus to Montréal, to leave the country, to change my visa to get a student visa so I could go to nursing school. When I married an American citizen, but for the fact that the time I was a Registered Nurse which was a desired profession, I would have had to have left the country for 10 years before I would be allowed to come back in after falling in love with an American while here on a temporary visa. That doesn't make any sense. Our federal immigration laws are tearing families apart, and we need to address that before we start looking at who and how we exclude from the opportunities of a nation of immigrants. That's who we are. The native peoples were here before most of our forebearers, but after that, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We need to look at our federal laws and state laws, as well as seeking to clarify what the Arizona law does and shouldn't do.
Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of when his four children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This law asks law enforcement officers to judge people by the color of their skin. Immigrants on temporary visas or permanent resident status are already required to carry their documentation at all times. As an American citizen, I am not required to carry my ID at all times. I don't want any American citizen to have to carry their ID at all times, because of the color of their skin, or the way they talk.
I recognize too that there are a lot of folks in Portland who don't support what the Council did in asking the courts to make this decision, and in asking our government relations staff to make clear our determination that racial profiling in Oregon is wrong. I received a dozen or so, maybe more, emails from folks who strongly support what Arizona has done. I realize that Arizona is dealing with different issues, and attempting to deal with different issues through their law.
One of my email correspondants asked me if I read the Arizona law. I have. Here's one section: "Notwithstanding any other law, a peace officer may stop any person who is operating a motor vehicle if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the person is in violation of any civil traffic law and this section", where "this section" is referring to immigration status. What will constitute "reasonable suspicion"? Skin color? Language spoken, or accent?
The law makes it a state crime to be anywhere, public or private property, without immigration permission. It also says, "It is unlawful to conceal, harbor, shield, or attempt to conceal, harbor, or shield an alien from detection in any place in this state, including any building or any means of transportation, if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact that the alien has come to and has entered or remains in the United States in violation of the law." When I read that, I thought of the brave souls who harbored slaves escaping from the south to the north. And I thought of Anne Frank and the people who looked after her, and churches offering sanctuary. And I thought, what if I was not here legally, and my husband was then subject to that law, because we wanted to be together. This is what this law is talking about. Immigration law addresses the fundamental issues of who we are as American families. And who we want to be as Americans. And where we come from as Americans, in this nation of immigrants who took the land from the native peoples.
I recognize that some people would have liked the Council to have instituted a boycott. As the Mayor said, the cities of Flagstaff and Tuscon in Arizona are bravely standing up to the law, and we want to support them in that. Plus, I wanted this Resolution to be meaningful, not a token effort. I trust the people of Portland to make their own decisions about whether they want to vacation in Arizona under these circumstances. I believe the actions the Council took this past week are significant. I'm guided by the Director of the Office of Human Relations, and the Human Rights Commission which has spoken out on this issue. We are serious about equal rights in Portland, in Oregon, in the United States. That's why this Resolution is important, in Portland.