Eugene Weekly interviewed Oregon state Rep. Mike Nearman about House Bill 2921 and immigration in Oregon. He sent EW a copy of the study he quoted multiple times in his interview. The study was conducted by Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is a documented hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Below is the full interview.
Eugene Weekly: I just wanted to start out by asking you why you decided to sponsor House Bill 2921?
Mike Nearman: As you know Oregon is a sanctuary state. We have a sanctuary policy that has been enacted into law here. This would repeal that. So I think it makes sense on a lot of different levels. First of all, its just kind of a rule of law thing for us to make a law that law enforcement is not supposed to comply with the law. That kind of is a little bit of a legally haywire. And so I don’t like that. I think that we just need to be able to enforce the laws just for their own sake just because we don’t need illegal people running around our country.
EW: About Oregon’s sanctuary status, just to compare to compare this to something else I was thinking about. Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana, but it’s still illegal federally. So what sorts of things, and this may be going out on a branch a little bit, but what sorts of things or laws or decisions should be left up to states versus what the federal government does.
MN: I get your point. So I think that just in a general way at the 30,000-foot level I think that we should have the states be responsible for everything they can possibly be responsible for. I think that’s the way the framers of the constitution envisioned it too. They envisioned a federal government that had just a small and limited powers and everything else was left to the states and the people. And that’s the spirit of the 10th amendment even though I think that we don’t see that done in actual policy anymore but that’s what we need to do. Now there are some things for instance like the state of Alabama and the state of Oregon probably should not have our own national defenses and we may not agree about how much national defense that we want but when we do that we need to do that as a country just because we’re not going to be very effective having 50 states trying to defend ourselves against whatever. So there are certain thing that it does, our coining money, I’m glad that when I go to the state of Washington that I don’t have to cash in a bunch of Oregon money, get Washington money at the exchange rate or something like that. I can just go up there and spend American money. So things like that that are interstate commerce or national defense and the other one would be the borders as another example where it’s not really appropriate to have states, even states that are not border states like Oregon come up with their own immigration policy. That doesn’t really work.
EW: There shouldn’t be a bunch of illegal people running around, do you think that immigration has been a problem in Oregon? Or if it has caused any problems in the state?
MN: So now you just asked me if immigration was a problem. No, immigration is not a problem. Legal immigration isn’t. We have the need for guest workers and I’m a software engineer by trade so my last job we had people who were in some status of legal-ness working but they weren’t citizens or anything like that and that’s fine. We do that as we have needs and as we can vet people.
But I think the question that you really meant to ask was do we have a problem with illegal immigration in Oregon. And yeah we do. I think by some estimates it costs the state of Oregon 1.2 billion dollars a year for illegal aliens. I’m on the budget committee for my school district and we spend a lot of money to teach students that don’t speak English. And those kinds of things, it gets very expensive to deal with illegal immigrants.
EW: And the example of spending state money to teach English. What about people who maybe come over El Salvador or Syria places that have people seeking asylum basically where they are in a war-torn country. What do you think about that? Sometimes it could be a matter or life or death for some people to come here?
MN: So most of the time when people come to this country they come here as legal immigrants and part of the conditions of them coming here is that they have to learn English at least some amount of English. And other people are born here and they probably just kind of speak English. Now you do get a situation where you have people who are speaking asylum or whatever and they don’t speak English and that’s fine, and there’s not that many of them. Even though right now we have a huge glut of Syrian immigrants but even that we’re talking about 60,000 people or something like that. So we’re not talking about huge numbers there and even those I would wonder if that’s so wise to let that many people—to give that many people asylum. I don’t know why we don’t do kind of a refugee situation that’s closer to their countries there. I’ve heard one estimate that says that we could be on a factor or 12 to 1 more effective with our dollars if we did somewhere in the middle east rather than by bringing them all to this country here.
EW: So this law would completely overturn the sanctuary law?
MN: Yes. It would do that and additionally it would say that local jurisdictions it would preempt local jurisdictions from establishing their own sanctuary policies.
EW: Are there any other legislators who have expressed interest in backing this bill?
MN: Rep. Esquivel and I are the only ones who have signed onto it. Honestly, I don’t expect that it will even get a hearing so it’s not something that I’m not working to bill that hard because I don’t expect it to get a hearing.
EW: I noticed that its status its been referred to the judiciary committee. And do you expect it will come out of that committee for a second reading?
MN: No, I don’t expect it will.
EW: What money would be used to enforce immigration? The state may use agencies moneys, but I’m curious about that because of the big budget gap the state is working with right now. So how would that work?
MN: The operative word there is may. State and municipalities have discretion; they don’t have to do that. If I’m driving 66 miles an hour on I-5 the state doesn’t have an obligation to have to arrest me or have to ticket me. So it says they may use it and it would just be part of the normal law enforcement budget. So right now, if I’m a police officer and I’m walking down the street, and I see you walking down the street and I know for a fact that I deported you two years ago and you’re the same guy, right now under Oregon law, I can’t do anything. So we’re keeping police officers from doing their jobs. We’re talking about turning over people who’ve been arrested for other crimes to ICE and these kinds of things. These aren’t costly law enforcement efforts these are just part of the background hum of law enforcement that would be funding this so it’s not a lot of extra money.
EW: Is there anything else you’d like to add about sponsoring this bill?
MN: If you want to talk about money, this bill will — I think — more than pay for itself. Like I said by some estimates, we pay 1.2 billion dollars a year in what the costs are for illegal immigration in Oregon. What we pay out of the welfare system, what we pay in the education system, what we pay in the healthcare system and then the criminal justice system. So if we could just get that down a little bit that would save the state a bunch of money. That would almost solve most of our budget shortfall that we have right now.
EW: And do you have those numbers listed anywhere about how much money it would save? Is that in a budget somewhere?
MN: I’m quoting Oregonians for immigration Reform, and I don’t know. It’s just a number that we get tossed around. I’m sure it’s well researched.
EW: Could you send me a copy of the report or budget?
MN: You mean a copy of where I’m getting the numbers from that 1.2 billion dollars?
MN: Yeah, I can do that.