PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – For the group behind an anti-immigration measure on Oregon’s ballot this year, targeting sanctuary laws is just the beginning. Identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Oregonians for Immigration Reform has both a record of political success and deep ties to white nationalists.
Spokesman Jim Ludwick says the group is against illegal immigration and also wants to dramatically reduce legal immigration. Before sponsoring the effort to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law, the group was behind a successful anti-immigrant measure in 2014. And Ludwick says the group has other plans.
Measure 105 would repeal Oregon’s state sanctuary law. A landmark when passed in 1987, the law prohibits state and local authorities from using public resources to arrest people whose sole crime is being in the United States without documents. Major businesses and political organizations have lined up against the measure including Nike, Columbia Sportswear, ACLU of Oregon, Audubon and the University of Oregon.
Other opponents include those who work closely with immigrants in Oregon like Reyna Lopez, executive director of the Woodburn-based farmworkers’ union Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN).
“This issue is really personal to me,” Lopez said. “Even though I am a citizen I have been racially profiled. People sometimes assume I’m undocumented because of my facial features. I’m very concerned for myself and the safety of my family.”
Lopez said her parents and others in their generation remember a time before Oregon’s sanctuary law, when local police would point out houses where immigrants were living to federal immigration agents.
“They didn’t care who was a citizen and who wasn’t,” Lopez said. “I’ve heard stories of roadblocks, where if you were a person who was light-skinned, they would let you pass. If you were dark-skinned they would make you step aside. These are not stories I made up. These are the stories of people who are involved in PCUN who watched this and remember it.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed Oregonians for Immigration Reform as a hate group for over a decade, in part based on its ties to known white nationalist organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the flagship group founded in the late 1970s by white nationalist John Tanton.
Tanton’s group helped launch Oregonians for Immigration Reform in 2000. It’s also the single largest contributor to the Measure 105 campaign.
In the mid-1990s, Oregonians for Immigration Reform joined the Oregon chapter of the nativist extremist militia group known as the Minutemen to protest outside of day labor camps across Oregon. The group maintains close ties to Minutemen leadership and other white nationalist leaders.
And this is not the group’s first ballot measure.
In 2014, Oregonians for Immigration Reform got a measure on the ballot to test a new Oregon law that would have issued Oregon identification cards to immigrants. Oregonians came out in droves against the law, with 66 percent voting to toss it.
Afterward, the group’s current president Cynthia Kendoll used white nationalist rhetoric to justify the measure in an interview with Willamette Week.
“We are told all the time that people come here and want to become Americans,” Kendoll said. “I don't think they're interested in becoming U.S. citizens. It's just an organized assault on our culture."
Since then, the group has continued to trumpet the white nationalist agenda.