Three Multnomah County deputies had a simple answer when asked by internal investigators recently why they assisted federal immigration agents: They'd been doing it for years, and no one told them not to.
Investigatory reports released by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office today shed light on the reasons the deputies—Keith Fisher, Kari Kolberg, and Larry Wenzel—were held blameless, despite actions that appeared to fly in the face of the state's sanctuary laws. News of those outcomes was first reported by the Mercury last month.
Suspicion about Fisher, Kolberg, and Wenzel's actions surfaced after Portland Tribune reporter Nick Budnick turned up emails showing each of them had interactions with agents of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in which they steered federal agents toward immigrant defendants. All three deputies are assigned to Close Street Supervision, a program that monitors certain defendants who are awaiting trial.
Documents and interviews show Fisher told agents that one immigrant suspect was due to report to his offices at a certain time, and helped agents get in touch with another defendant's probation officer while they were trying to locate the man.
Kolberg flagged ICE agents to a domestic violence suspect she said had overstayed his visa. Wenzel facilitated a meeting between another domestic violence defendant and ICE agents in which the suspect was taken into custody.
The actions caused a stir, coming as they did on the heels of Donald Trump's attempts at an Muslim travel ban. That ban had in turn caused Sheriff Mike Reese to speak forcefully against immigration enforcement activity, not long before his deputies' actions were unveiled. As the reports note: "Sheriff Reese had just participated in a show of public support for undocumented migrants in which County leaders had decried the impact of immigration enforcement."
More basically, immigration attorneys argued the actions violated Oregon's decades-old "sanctuary" law prohibiting the use of state resources for "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."
But after detailed investigations—in which all three deputies freely admitted their actions—the sheriff's office found no wrongdoing.
Why? Because no one at the sheriff's office had apparently heard of the sanctuary law, and had never been told not to work with ICE. Ignorance of the law was cited by all three deputies in question, but also their superiors. Here's what a sergeant at the sheriff's office told investigators.
What's more, deputies were used to working with ICE. As the reports note, "at the time of [their] interaction with ICE, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office had been quietly cooperating with ICE for years." That included reported undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, and honoring ICE requests for 48-hour "holds" on inmates after they were otherwise scheduled to be released (a practice that ended after a 2014 federal court ruling).
The sheriff's office reports also paint the state sanctuary policy as hard to enforce. They note that it has no prescribed penalty when broken, that it potentially contradicts both federal statute and policy "requiring cooperation with other agencies," and that other departments routinely supply ICE with lists of immigrant inmates.
Given all this, the sheriff's office concludes, Fisher, Kolberg, and Wenzel didn't knowingly violate policy. The MCSO's only public statement on the matter said the investigation "revealed areas where policy direction was not clear, and members were conducting business within the parameters provided by a previous administration." What's more, the sheriff's office argues that a policy put in place by Reese in February provides a "clearly defined expectations for MCSO staff in accordance with both Oregon Revised Statue and federal case law."
All of the reports conclude: "MCSO has quietly cooperated with ICE in many ways for decades in spite of the statute, and it is difficult to believe that [deputies] and [their] Close Street supervisors were aware of the Oregon statute or any expectation that cooperation with ICE was prohibited." They further contend that after strong comments by Reese on the matter in January, "all cooperation with ICE ceased."