Sanctuary Law

Lawsuit leads to Cottage Grove’s step towards safeguarding immigrant communities from unlawful detention

A victory for local immigrant communities came earlier this year after the Lane County Circuit Court found the city of Cottage Grove was illegally using its police department’s resources to collaborate with federal immigration agencies.

In February 2023, Rural Organizing Project and Community Alliance of Lane County filed a lawsuit alleging that the Cottage Grove Police Department had been violating the state’s Sanctuary Promise Act, which was passed in 2021 to strengthen the existing sanctuary laws in the state.

They reported instances of police officers racially profiling and detaining community members who came to the police station to pay off fines for citations, unrelated to their immigrant status. The groups say that Cottage Grove has topped the list of Oregon communities impacted by detentions and deportations. 

ROP is a state-wide nonprofit organization based in Cottage Grove whose mission is to build support and strengthen the equal worth of human dignity in all communities.

Sam Corti, ROP development coordinator, tells Eugene Weekly, “Once detained, names would be listed on a jail log and officers would profile detainees by their last names. They would then tip off federal immigration enforcement agencies.”  

Oregon was the first state in the nation to become a sanctuary state when it enacted a law in 1987 that prohibited local law enforcement agencies and government bodies from assisting federal authorities in enforcing immigration law.

The Oregon Legislature expanded the law in 2021 with the Sanctuary Promise Act, which ensures that no government or law enforcement agency could assist federal immigration enforcement without a warrant from a federal judge.

However, the rollout of the law has been slow, according to Corti, who says, “I think the city thought that their policies surrounding collaboration with federal agencies were on the books. It takes citizen watchdog groups like ROP and CALC to work together to break isolation, ensuring the law is being followed.”

In January of this year the court issued a judgment ordering the city to immediately amend policies that were in violation of state law.

 Cottage Grove Chief of Police Cory Chase, who joined the department in September 2023 while the lawsuit was ongoing, says, “We will provide training to our officers on the Oregon Sanctuary Promise Act annually and have since updated our policy.”

The Cottage Grove Police Department manual updated its Policy 428 and cites its guidelines for police officer interaction with federal officials in compliance with state immigration law. The new policy enforces, “An officer will not detain any individual, for any length of time, for a civil violation of federal immigration laws or a related civil warrant.”

Section 428.6.1 of the policy further bars collaboration with federal immigration agencies, explicitly stating, “Any requests from federal immigration officials for assistance relating to immigration enforcement shall be declined and the communication or request shall be documented.”

Chase adds, “Since I have been here, I have not been aware of any violations of the Oregon Sanctuary Promise Act.”

Before this case, the Lane County Sheriff’s Department was also in violation of the Sanctuary Promise Act, Corti says. As a result of the amplification of this lawsuit, the department has since also updated its policy to comply with SPA.

ROP says new leadership, new officers and ultimately the new policy on the books strengthens SPA and makes people in the community feel safer.

Corti says, “It is hard to determine an accurate number of violations as people are afraid to report violations or don’t even know that a hotline exists. People also are unaware that their rights are being violated.”

The Oregon Department of Justice has a Sanctuary Promise Violations Hotline listed on its website that includes accommodation for Spanish and other languages.

Additionally, under the provisions of Sanctuary Promise Act, individuals who have already been detained by local law enforcement as a result of their immigration status are still within their right to take legal action against a municipality for violation of state law. 

ROP and CALC both offer resources to communities to act on the enforcement of sanctuary laws. Corti says many times community members won’t take legal action because they don’t have the resources and they don’t trust local law enforcement. 

Corti adds, “While we are thrilled with this amazing success, there is still work to be done across the state of Oregon. We are not done; we have a plethora of resources for people who are looking to get involved.” 

Find more about the Rural Organizing Project at or call 503-543-8417. Find CALC at 541-485-1755.

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