Ricardo Lujan, an undocumented Southern Oregon University student living in Ashland, says the Trump administration's immigration policies are sowing fear. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Uncertain sanctuary

"Undocumented and Unafraid" may have read the sign Ricardo Lujan carried in downtown Ashland at the Women's March, but it doesn't discount his deep concerns that he could be deported at any time.

Lujan, a senior at Southern Oregon University, said his first thought when he wakes up in the morning is whether today's the day he'll lose protections under an Obama administration policy that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to receive work permits and a reprieve on deportation. Lujan was born in Mexico and entered the U.S. when he was 9 years old.

"Since November 8 I have not woken up without that stress," Lujan said.

Two executive orders President Donald Trump signed Wednesday on immigration enforcement magnify Lujan's concerns, but he uses his fear as motivation to take action to safeguard Oregon's laws protecting undocumented immigrants. Lujan said he makes frequent calls to local legislators to flex their "state muscle."

"It's up to us now," Lujan said. "When we were in the shadows, when we were hidden, we didn't have the voice we have today."

A Medford Latina woman who asked not to be identified said her family lives in fear that her husband of 24 years will be deported — for the fourth time. Each time he was sent back to Mexico, he risked life-threatening treks through the desert to return to the only family he has. Once he was robbed at gunpoint and held for $3,000 ransom. The woman said she was too scared to contact police, so she complied.

The Mail Tribune granted the woman anonymity to protect her husband, who works as a migrant worker under the table.

"It's constantly on TV," she said. She describes herself as "not a political person," but her husband insists on tuning in when the president talks about immigration.

They've been saving for a house in Mexico should he be deported again, even though the country isn't her home and her husband has no extended family there.

"This is all he's known," the woman said. "He's been here since he was 14."

Trump's executive order "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements" is the first step toward carrying out a campaign promise to build a physical barrier at the Mexico border, but immigration lawyers say Trump's other order Wednesday, "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States," is more concerning to locals because it challenges the state's longstanding sanctuary city law.

"The wall is symbolic," Medford immigration lawyer John Almaguer said.

Since 1987, no state or local law enforcement agency in Oregon can use their resources for apprehending individuals solely because they are violating federal immigration laws. Trump's executive order targets the state law as well as sanctuary cities, such as Ashland and Portland, by threatening to withhold federal funding.

State Republican lawmakers, including Medford state Rep. Sal Esquivel, are working toward overturning the law with a 2018 ballot measure.

If the law were to be struck down, Almaguer envisions places such as Ashland remaining as sanctuary cities, while other cities might enter into contracts with the federal government to arrest people solely because they're in the country illegally.

"It's going to be tough traveling through the state," Almaguer said.

In the short term, Trump's executive order could create a much broader definition of criminal aliens than the Obama and Bush administrations, according to Almaguer and fellow immigration lawyer Kevin Stout.

Though Almaguer said it's "way too early" to know how the law will be enforced, he's concerned unlawful acts many undocumented immigrants do to get by, such as falsifying a job application or using a fake Social Security number, could be considered fraud or willful misrepresentation in the Trump administration.

"We have this expansion into the definition of 'criminal,'" Almaguer said. "You don't even need to have a charge or conviction."

Stout said he's concerned that the law will shift enforcement priorities away from President Obama's nuanced approach targeting deportation efforts at immigrants convicted of felony crimes.

"Now it's throwing a much broader net with the same amount of agents and the same amount of resources," Stout said.

Deportation hearings for Stout's clients are more than a year away; that's before Trump's executive order removed President Obama's priorities and protections, he said. 

"It's a short-sighted and poorly crafted executive order that won't have the desired effect," Stout said.

There are only about seven Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the Medford area, whom Stout described as highly trained. Though Trump's executive order could expand hiring in the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, Stout said recruiting and hiring qualified people typically can't happen right away.

"It's hard to train these guys," Stout said.

Stout said a more immediate concern is that it'll drive people in the Latino community underground, undoing efforts by Medford police and Jackson County sheriff's deputies to build trust and communication with the Latino community.

“If they’re afraid of going to court, it’s just going to be more dangerous for all of us,” Stout said.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said the department intends to continue its efforts to build and maintain relationships with underrepresented communities that started under former Sheriff Corey Falls. Since 2014, the sheriff's department has undergone implicit bias training and held citizen's academy events in Spanish to better serve the Latino community. Sickler said another bilingual citizen's academy is set for later this year.

"We'll continue to do a lot of the same things," Sickler said. "It's important that we have everybody's trust in the community."

Medford police declined to comment, but the agency has held its own outreach to the Latino community, including a Spanish-language Latino Citizens Academy in 2016, organized with bilingual Caminos Magazine and Medford Cultural Liaison Coordinator Lilia Caballero.

When a victim reports a crime, dispatchers and sheriff's deputies don't even ask about citizenship, Sickler said. 

A statement issued Friday from Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, president of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, said that "immediate changes to police practices are unlikely" and that the order is only binding for federal agents. Sickler said his department draws guidance from the OSSA, which abides by law enforcement industry standards and practices.

"For the time being, Oregon Sheriffs are bound to follow state law, which currently only allows exchange of information with ICE when a foreign-born person is arrested," Garrett's statement said.

Should the law change, Sickler said his department isn't at liberty to pick and choose what laws to enforce, but said his department would handle changes to the law in a responsive and transparent way.

The sheriff's office doesn't have the resources to act as ICE agents or sweep neighborhoods, and deputies wouldn't want to violate trust they've gained in the Latino community, Sickler said.

"We're not going to go door-to-door," Sickler said.

Sickler said there must be an accompanying crime or warrant signed off by a judge to keep someone in custody with an ICE hold. Oregon police officers and corrections deputies are allowed to communicate with ICE regarding crimes and frequently do so, according to the OSSA. 

Because Oregon jails can't hold people on ICE requests to detain alone, the OSSA is concerned the state could be considered a "sanctuary state" and may be threatened with the loss of federal grant funding.

"At this time the 'sanctuary' definition is unclear," the OSSA statement says. 

Regardless of how the law may change, the president's anti-immigration statements impact the way Latinos live their daily lives, the immigration lawyers said.

Almaguer said strangers have approached his clients who have legal residency and asked them when they'll be leaving the United States.

Lujan said he lost a friend from the northern part of the state to suicide, which he said was partly a result of stress and depression over the fact she was undocumented.

"That's when it truly hit me close to home," Lujan said. "It's been devastating to our community for sure."

Lujan, who's majoring in Business Administration with a focus on nonprofit management, said he's driven to prove those skeptical of undocumented immigrants wrong by working to be a contributing member of society, pay his taxes and live above board.

"I've always viewed myself as an American," Lujan said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at

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