Victory in Columbia County! Judge Overturns Anti-Immigrant Measure

April 13, 2009
Marcy Westerling, Director, Rural Organizing Project, (503) 369-3565  
David Fidanque, Executive Director, ACLU of Oregon, (541) 954-7731
D. Michael Dale, Executive Director, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, (503) 357-8290
Judge Overturns Anti-Immigrant Measure
Measure 5-190 Exceeded Columbia County Jurisdiction and Violates Federal Law
ST. HELENS, Ore. – A Columbia County judge today overturned an anti-immigrant ballot measure approved last fall because it conflicts with federal immigration law and would have required the county to take enforcement actions beyond its authority.
The ruling on Ballot Measure 5-190 came in two cases that were filed in Columbia County Circuit Court last fall. County Commissioners had requested a ruling on the measure’s validity and a separate challenge was filed by a coalition of Columbia County business owners and voters who have been represented by attorneys for the ACLU of Oregon and the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project.
Columbia County Commissioners approved amendments to the initiative in December which were also at issue in the court challenge. Judge Ted Grove had heard oral arguments in the consolidated cases in January and had approved a preliminary injunction at that time to prevent the measure from taking effect.
The coalition challenging the measure includes Rural Organizing Project, Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity, 28 individual residents of Columbia County, CAUSA Immigrant Rights Coalition and others.
“Columbia County has a lot of challenges ahead and Measure 5-190 wasn’t going to help,” said Columbia County business owner Gary Liao, one of the plaintiffs in the challenge. “The measure and ordinance were deeply flawed and confusing. At a time when our economy is reeling, it would have imposed additional burdens on both the county and on employers who have been following the law.”
Other members of the coalition said they hope the court decision will allow communities that have been deeply divided over the immigration issue to find common ground and work together.
“It’s time to direct our frustrations about the immigration issue where it belongs: on the federal government’s responsibility to carry out meaningful immigration reform,” said Marcy Westerling, Director of the Rural Organizing Project in Scappoose. “Having a patchwork of local laws seeking to usurp federal authority on this issue would only create more frustration with federal policy.”
In his opinion, Judge Grove addressed many portions of Measure 5-190 and held that all of them were either preempted by federal law or went beyond the authority of Columbia County under state laws. Among his findings were:
  • The measure’s $10,000 mandatory fine “clearly violates” the preemption of immigration enforcement by federal law;
  • The measure’s provision that violations would be reviewed according to state law but would be appealed to Justice Court, violated state law that requires that such appeals be heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals;
  • The measure’s requirement that violations result in suspension of all licenses and permits were beyond the authority of both the Justice Court and the County Commissioners because many of the relevant licenses and permits are not issued by the county; and
  • The many enforcement provisions of the measure rose to the level of criminal or civil sanctions which are also preempted by federal law.
Finally, Judge Grove wrote that while he “recognizes the serious issue the initiative was seeking to address, existing Federal preemption and statutory provisions cannot be ignored.”
Similar measures in Hazelton, Pa.; Farmers Branch, Texas; Escondido, Calif; and other jurisdictions had previously been struck down.
Attorneys handling the case for the coalition have been: 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.


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