SALEM, Ore. — A conservative group is taking aim at the nation’s oldest statewide sanctuary law, with a drive to repeal a 31-year-old Oregon mandate limiting police coordination on immigration arrests.

But critics say hate groups are funding the effort to abolish the law, and allege paid signature-gatherers deceived voters during a canvassing push earlier this year.

State law enforcement authorities have opened at least one investigation into the signature-gatherers, and opponents have filed a complaint questioning whether the behavior was part of a coordinated effort to mislead voters.

The developments come as so-called sanctuary laws around the United States face increasing criticism from President Trump’s administration. Trump last month gathered officials opposed to a California sanctuary law at a Washington, D.C., event where he gained attention for referring to violent gang members who enter the country illegally as “animals.”

Like California, Oregon has a sanctuary law that covers the entire state, the first of its kind and one of only a handful of similarly broad laws in the nation.

With help from anti-sanctuary groups, a trio of Republican legislators from rural parts of the state sponsored an initiative to repeal Oregon’s law.

The secretary of state’s office confirmed nine complaints about alleged deceptive practices by initiative signature-gatherers have been forwarded to Oregon’s Justice Department for criminal investigation. State elections staff also estimated about 40 people called seeking to have their signatures removed from the petition.

Many of the complaints date to late February, but the Justice Department has since received a second round of complaints.

Oregon’s 1987 sanctuary law grew out of an episode in the town of Independence, where officers singled out a group of Latino men in a restaurant and aggressively interrogated them about their citizenship status. The law prohibits state agencies from inquiring about a person’s immigration status if they haven’t committed another crime, or coordinating with ICE raids or roundups in the state.


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