PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt unveiled new policy on Thursday to provide “immigration-neutral case resolutions,” according to the DA’s Office.
Schmidt said prosecutors must consider immigration consequences that charging, plea bargaining or sentencing may have on a person’s status, the DA’s office said.
Schmidt said the office would not cooperate with any federal immigration enforcement, including with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he and advocates of the reform say is creating unfair punishments for non-citizens charged with the same crimes as citizens.
“Prior to these reforms, non-citizens accused of a crime could be sent back to their country of origin and given a lifelong ban from reentry for non-violent offenses, where a naturalized US citizen charged with the same crime may only receive a few months probation sentence from a judge,” Schmidt said in a press conference.
One of the outcomes Schmidt, the Oregon Law Resource Center and the Latino Network say can happen is that families are separated, and a charge can flag someone for deportation — sometimes before the case even finishes the process through the criminal justice system.
He continued “in this circumstance, deportation does absolutely nothing to make us more safe. Instead, it has the potential to break up families, compromise household incomes, and propagate generational inequity. These outcomes make us less safe.”
Schmidt says people’s immigration status can also prevent them from reporting a crime because of fear of deportation.
Tony Defalco, of the Latino Network, said Latinx people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
“They would know that simply going to court for a traffic ticket or a misdemeanor would not mean that their entire lives would be uprooted. We know that our relatives, our neighbors, and our friends would not be taken away from our communities for small infractions that would be met with probation or even less for those of us with a different citizenship status,” Defalco said during the press conference.
In a press release, Defalco adds, “if the punishment for a crime for one person is a fine or community service and for another person it is separation from their family, then we are not promoting justice and we are not serving our community by keeping Oregon families together. This important step by the District Attorney’s office ensures that we are one step closer to true equitable justice in Multnomah County and hopefully we can see other counties in Oregon adopt similar policies as well.”
The office said it worked over the course of a year to develop the policy with immigration attorneys, defense attorneys and community advocates.
“We think prosecutors should be engaged with the real-world impact of their decisions, including how they affect someone’s immigration status,” said Erin McKee of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. “In our work providing defense attorneys across Oregon with immigration legal advice for their client’s cases, we sometimes hear that a prosecutor doesn’t want to know anything about the client’s immigration situation, let alone consider an immigration-safer plea. That’s not in the interest of justice. We’re heartened to see Multnomah County taking a different approach and urge other counties to follow their example.”
Schmidt points to research that shows non-citizens commit less crimes than citizens and hopes other jurisdictions make similar changes.