Before they could make it inside a Salem Best Western for their general meeting on Saturday, Oregonians for Immigration Reform members passed by protesters holding up signs in support of immigrants.
Oregonians for Immigration Reform has been behind repeated campaigns to pass ballot measures targeting immigrants. One of their ongoing measure efforts would make Oregon an “English only” state, and another calls for mandated use of E-Verify for all employment.
The group was also behind the successful defeat of Measure 88 in 2014, effectively denying undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain drivers licenses.
But it wasn’t just the policy pushing of Oregonians for Immigration Reform that protesters were in Salem to decry, they were there to denounce its guest of honor: Jessica Vaughan.
Vaughan is the policy director at a think tank based in Washington, D.C, that according to Southern Poverty Law Center, is nothing short of a hate group in sheep’s clothing, “standing at the nexus of the American nativist movement.”
It’s called Center for Immigration Studies, and it earned the hate-group designation because it publishes the works of white nationalists and anti-Semitic authors.
It also releases fear-mongering “studies” and “reports” full of cherry-picked and misleading information, many written by Vaughan herself. Their findings promote anti-immigrant sentiment against undocumented and documented immigrants alike.
That Oregonians for Immigration Reform would have a representative from this group at its meeting, said Diane Goodwin, “is a further example of its white-nationalist connections.” Goodwin is the communications director at Basic Rights Oregon, which was just one of many groups protesting the event.
The damage that Center for Immigration Studies causes is far-reaching, with much of its misinformation going viral in online conservative circles, often making it onto the lips of politicians and Fox TV News pundits.
One study from the think tank claimed the Obama administration released 36,000 “criminal aliens.” Another claimed 72 terrorists have come to the U.S. from the countries on Trump’s travel-ban list since 9/11. Both these reports, while loosely-based on actual data, were widely debunked. Neither passed the Washington Post’s “Pinocchio Test” after prominent Republican party members repeated their findings.
But regardless of the reports coming out of Center for Immigrations Studies’ inability to pass a basic fact check, fringe-media outlets, such as Breitbart and TheBlaze, can’t resist widely disseminating their xenophobic click bait findings as news.
“Her organization has spread a lot of misinformation about immigrants,” said Laura Stevens of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club. Stevens is also the spokesperson for a newly-formed environmental committee that took the lead in organizing the Saturday afternoon protest.
“Our mission is to protect the planet for all people, regardless of national origin,” said Stevens. “The climate crisis is already creating climate refugees, and some are already coming to Oregon from the Pacific Islands.”
She said the environmental committee, which includes Climate Solutions, 350 Salem, Oregon League of Conservation Voters and many others, were there to show that Oregonians for Immigration Reform do not represent true Oregon values.
By 1 p.m., about 20 protesters had already gathered at the entrance to the parking lot of the Best Western Mill Creek Inn, where Oregonians for Immigration Reform’s general meeting was set to begin in one hour.
As pick-up trucks and other vehicles carrying white-haired passengers poured in, many shook their heads and gave a thumbs down to protesters. One man gave them the bird.
Many of the groups participating in the protest are members of One Oregon, a broad, statewide coalition that formed in the wake of Trump’s election to stand against anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies and ballot measures.
Its members include labor unions, immigrant rights groups, faith-based organizations and many other advocacy and nonprofit organizations, including Street Roots.
But it was member environmental groups that took the lead on Saturday, marking the first time they’ve come together for immigrant rights.
“The newly-formed Environmental Committee,” said Joel Iboa in the hours leading up to the demonstration, “is stepping forward. They are allies turning into accomplices.”
Iboa works for Causa, Oregon’s largest immigrant rights advocacy group, and is also the One Oregon coalition coordinator. He said organizers also put the call out for faith-based organizations and racial justice groups to attend the protest at the Best Western.
Best Western did not respond to an inquiry about its policies regarding hosting hate groups by press time.
Armed guards in uniforms, who were not local law enforcement, stood at the door and in the lobby of the Salem Best Western. The front desk told Street Roots they were hotel night security called in due to the protesters, but that does not explain why one was wearing a hat that read “Patriot.” The guards also popped in and out of the Oregonians for Immigration Reform meeting, and were present in the lobby long after the protesters left the area.
Vaughan had been invited to speak to Oregonians for Immigration Reform about sanctuary policies and Trump’s immigration policies.
She told a hotel conference room full of what appeared to be mainly retirees, that several people now working in the White House have been working with her organization for years, and that they are successfully pushing anti-immigrant policies.
She spoke about several bills she said were in the works in Washington, D.C., that would limit refugees to 50,000 per year, severely limit family sponsorship of immigration and cut back on who can earn green cards. When she mentioned a bill that would make E-Verify, an online system for verifying legal ability to work in the U.S., universal, the room erupted in applause.
Vaughan spoke at length at the Best Western about how her group and allies in D.C. are pushing back on sanctuary cities.
In December she co-authored a report that’s aim was to show how claims sanctuary jurisdictions make are “largely unfounded.”
One key finding, stated the report, was that, “Cooperation with immigration enforcement has not been shown to undermine community trust nor cause immigrants to refrain from reporting crime.
We asked local law enforcement if this finding aligned with the experience of their departments.
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Chad Gaidos indicated this argument couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Since November, Sheriff Reese and his command staff have attended numerous community meetings where immigrants have personally expressed a reluctance to call law enforcement to report crime for fear of deportation,” he told Street Roots. “In addition, presiding court judges in both Multnomah and Washington counties have expressed seeing a decline in the number of people who are participating in court processes, to include both victims and witnesses. This hampers the effectiveness of our court to provide due process, and accountability,” he said. “Not reporting crime in our community makes us all less safe.”
Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Sgt. Pete Simpson did not agree with this finding either.
“We know that many of our immigrant and refugee community members come from places where there is a deep-rooted distrust of law enforcement. We work very hard to help gain their trust through outreach and community engagement,” he said. “Part of that is explaining that local law enforcement is not immigration enforcement.”
According to Center for New Community, a Chicago-based organization that tracks “organized bigotry,” nativist across the country have shown increasing interest in Oregon and efforts to pass anti-immigrant laws in the state, in part due to the low barrier to qualify for a ballot measure.
A report it released on Oregonians for Immigration Reform highlighted the group’s links to hate groups and its dependence on financial assistance from white nationalists.
The report states, “Nativist victories in Oregon can be used to build momentum for the anti-immigrant movement around the country.”
And it is.
Vaughan told her Oregon audience that she often encourages immigration reform groups in other states by telling them about how in Oregon, Oregonians for Immigration Reform beat a measure to give drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
“If it can be done in Oregon,” she said, “it can be done anywhere.”