Five immigrant youth hold signs reading

The Fight Starts Here: Immigrant Rights in Oregon

February 15, 2018

If you live outside of Oregon, you probably think of it as a very white state. As someone who grew up here, I can tell you that’s not the whole story. While the Portlandia sketches and gentrification news stories have some truth to them, they always miss the immigrants, refugees and communities of color who have changed the face of Oregon over the years. Our children make up nearly half of Portland’s public schools. We’re here. But so is a long history of white supremacy.

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White supremacy was built into Oregon at the outset: our territorial constitution banned Black people from living, working or owning property in the state. Even as immigrant and refugee communities made Oregon their home, centuries of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee laws have been supported by a culture of exclusion and violence. This history shapes the Oregon we live in today: deadly white supremacist violence in Portland made national headlines just last year. And now, white supremacists from all over the country have their eyes set on our state.

National white supremacist organizations are pouring money into Oregonians for Immigration Reform. They’ve used this money to bring in far-right extremist speakers, to collaborate with local fringe organizations, and now to push an anti-immigrant ballot measure: Initiative Petition 22.

IP 22 would take us back to a time when it was okay for local and state law enforcement to racially profile immigrants and communities of color. White supremacists are putting our rights up for a vote—and if they win here, they know they can win elsewhere.

Ballot measures have been tested in Oregon before. The anti-LGBT movement pushed more than twenty of them between 1980 and the early 2000s, learning from what worked and didn’t work in Oregon and then exporting it to other states. Oregon is a canary in a coal mine. When there’s a national rightwing effort to target people here, everyone needs to pay attention. Immigrants are part of all of our communities, and anti-immigrant policies here are a threat to communities everywhere.

Forward Together is ready to fight for safe communities in Oregon. As part of the One Oregon coalition, we’re educating our folks—organizations, activists, community members, students—on Oregon’s struggle for immigrant rights. We’re creating artwork that affirms our communities’ strength and dignity. Soon, we’ll go door-to-door and gather enough people power to stop this ballot measure in its tracks.

Here in Oregon, we know the white supremacist playbook: rewrite the story of who Americans really are, then divide and conquer our communities. We also know this: Oregon isn’t a white state. Immigrants and people of color are here, and we’re not going anywhere.