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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coalition Files Complaint Against Measure Targeting Employers, Undocumented Immigrants

December 11, 2008

Marcy Westerling, Director, Rural Organizing Project, (503) 543-8417 or (503) 543-3647
D. Michael Dale, Executive Director, Northwest Workers' Justice Project, (503) 357-8290
Meg Heaton, Staff Attorney, Northwest Workers' Justice Project, (503) 525-8454
David Fidanque, Executive Director, ACLU of Oregon, (541) 954-7731
Brian Willoughby, Communications Director, ACLU of Oregon, (503) 502-7675

Coalition Challenges Measure 5-190

Anti-Immigrant Law Exceeds Columbia County Jurisdiction and Violates State Law

ST. HELENS, Ore. – A coalition of social justice groups and business owners is formally challenging Measure 5-190, an anti-immigrant law recently passed by voters in Columbia County. The ACLU of Oregon and Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, on behalf of the coalition, filed the complaint today in Columbia County Circuit Court.

Our Complaint for Declaratory Relief contends that Measure 1-590, which would fine employers for hiring or employing undocumented immigrants:

•Exceeds the powers of Columbia County as granted by the state of Oregon;
•Violates the Single Subject requirement of the Oregon Constitution; and
•Is preempted by existing state laws, as well as land-use statutes and regulations.

The coalition includes Rural Organizing Project, Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity, Columbia County business owner and resident Gary Liao, CAUSA Immigrant Rights Coalition and others.

“The measure, as written, contains errors, omissions, confuses jurisdictions and oversteps its bounds,” said Columbia County business owner Gary Liao. “Can a county government, for example, rescind a city- or state-given license? And fairness for all concerned requires action at the federal level. What would this nation look like if every local jurisdiction passed unique and contradictory laws seeking to enforce federal immigration policy?”

On Nov. 4, 2008, Columbia County voters passed Measure 5-190, which imposes fines of up to $10,000 and threatens the loss of business licenses for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

“Clearly, there has been a vacuum of leadership on immigration reform at the federal level,” said Marcy Westerling, Director of the Rural Organizing Project in Scappoose. “The proper response to that frustration is not to enact a mismatched patchwork of local laws seeking to usurp federal authority on this issue. Such an approach is misguided and unmanageable.”

Even Columbia County Counsel Sarah Hanson has issued a public statement saying the measure has “numerous legal flaws and … [is] unlikely to survive a legal challenge.”

Similar measures in Hazelton, Pa.; Farmers Branch, Texas; Escondido, Calif; and other jurisdictions already have been struck down.

Proponent Wayne Mayo, a local building contractor, has said he modeled the measure on Arizona’s Legal Worker Act. While that law has passed some court scrutiny, it still faces continued challenges regarding its constitutionality. Already, the state there has spent more than $75,000 in legal fees defending the law and has budgeted $2.6 million this fiscal year for enforcement and notification.

Mayo’s law also relies on E-Verify, a federal database designed to check employees’ names against Social Security records. That database has proven to be very flawed and ineffective. One transposed digit or misspelled name could flag longtime citizens as “illegal.”

Attorneys handling the case are: D. Michael Dale, Steven Goldberg and Meg Heaton for Northwest Workers' Justice Project; ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Bruce L. Campbell and Elisa J. Dozono, both of Miller Nash LLP; Stephen W. Manning of the Immigrant Law Group; and Chin See Ming, Legal Director for the ACLU of Oregon. The complaint asks the court to declare Measure 5-190 invalid and award reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Impact on Business in Columbia County

While our complaint challenges the authority of counties to enact such laws, the coalition also is concerned – especially during this time of economic recession – that Measure 5-190 is fundamentally bad for business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce – not often allied with social justice organizations – has staunchly opposed similar local measures because they are preempted by federal law and violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Measure 5-190 will also create a dangerous climate of suspicion in all the communities that make up Columbia County. “Foreign”-looking or “foreign”-sounding citizens will be put under a public microscope, and businesses that have never employed undocumented immigrants – and never would – may be forced to defend themselves against unwarranted accusations. All businesses owners and all job applicants in Columbia County will be at the mercy of this cumbersome, unconstitutional law.

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