Like many other Southern Oregonians, we worked hard this summer as firefighters across southern Oregon and northern California on fires like the Klamathon and the Delta Fire.
It was dangerous and sometimes scary work, especially when strong winds were blowing. But it also was rewarding to know that we were protecting lives, homes, businesses, and schools.
Many of the firefighters in our region and throughout the state were immigrants. Within our crews, everyone respected and watched out for each other. It didn’t matter who we were or what we looked like. We were all there to help our communities.
But there’s a strange contradiction. If Measure 105 that’s on the Oregon ballot this fall passes, many of those same firefighters will be coming home to a communities where they feel less welcome and less safe.
More than 30 years ago, all but two of the 90 members of the Oregon Legislature — Republicans and Democrats alike — passed a law directing state and local law enforcement to spend their limited time and resources on enforcing local and state laws, not doing the job of federal immigration agents. That law has worked well and helped promote effective policing in our neighborhoods.
Now, out-of-state groups with a political agenda are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to repeal Oregon’s law by passing Measure 105.
We know that immigrants are not only wildland firefighters but also community volunteers, parents, workers, small business owners, taxpayers, and students. They help keep our economy and our communities strong.
A “Yes” vote on Measure 105 would open the door to firefighters we work with and many other members of our communities being stopped by law enforcement simply because they “look” like they might be undocumented.
Current state law provides that local law enforcement can stop or detain anyone who is committing a crime. That means local police resources are focused, as they should be, on keeping us all safe.
Measure 105 would change that by diverting our local police to do the job of federal law enforcement by pursuing and detaining people solely because they “might” be undocumented.
Public safety resources in our region are already stretched thin over large geographic areas. Southern Oregon law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve hardly need new demands on their time and budgets.
In addition, Measure 105 could undermine efforts to ensure a relationship of trust between local law enforcement and communities of color in Southern Oregon.
A “No” vote on Measure 105 will keep the law the way it is. Criminals will remain the proper focus of local law enforcement. Federal immigration laws will remain in place. And our co-workers and neighbors who are doing nothing wrong will not become subject to unjust profiling.
As our climate changes, we can expect bigger and more intense fires next summer, and the summer after that, and for many years to come.
This is no time to tell men and women who help fight those fires that they cannot expect to be treated with basic respect and dignity when they return home.
Zac Wilner and Asucena Aguilera are wildland firefighters in our region.