On Saturday, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, spoke on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol. The event was hosted by the Oregon Republican Party and sponsored by Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), a nativist organization that publicly collaborates with a notorious hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
Sheriff Arpaio may have gotten more than he bargained for, though, when he was greeted by an enthusiastic counter-protest about three times the size of his group of supporters. Participants chanted, “No hate in our state,” “Love your neighbor,” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Participants chanted, “No hate in our state,” “Love your neighbor,” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Sheriff Arpaio’s appearance at an official Oregon Republican Party event may be a troubling sign of things to come. Oregon state legislators have already proposed four anti-immigrant ballot measures for 2016 that aim to designate English as the official language in Oregon and would, in effect, mandate the use of E-Verify by Oregon employers. It is likely that two of these proposals are placeholders, and that only one ballot measure on each topic will actually move forward.
After the anti-immigrant movement’s 2014 success in denying access to driver’s licenses for undocumented Oregon residents by defeating ballot measure 88, these nativist leaders seem to be projecting confidence by seeking to double the number of anti-immigrant measures on the ballot in 2016. But they are not relying on confidence alone.
Saturday’s event can easily be interpreted as the opening salvo of the campaign to pass these ballot measures, giving the anti-immigrant movement an early start at energizing their base with a ‘prominent’ speaker. Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which is likely to take a leadership role in campaigning to pass the ballot measures, sponsored Saturday’s event and has ties to each person listed as proposing an anti-immigrant ballot measure for 2016. OFIR also staffed a table at the event, collecting signatures.
Beyond Arpaio, the event featured State Rep. Greg Barreto, who served as MC of the event, and State Rep. Sal Esquivel, who is listed as a chief petitioner for each of the four anti-immigrant ballot measures proposed for 2016. After Arpaio spoke, others connected his work to the proposed ballot measures to mandate employers’ use of E-Verify statewide and establish English as the official language in Oregon.
The counter-protest was organized by Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Oregon’s farmworkers union, and was supported by many local and state-wide groups.
If we can take Saturday’s counter-protest as a sign, Oregon’s immigrant rights community is mobilized and strong, despite these troubling developments on the other side. The anti-immigrant movement is confident, but many people committed to justice and equality will continue to stand in their way.