There’s virtually no chance that the uber-progressive Oregon legislature would ever repeal the state’s oldest-in-the-nation sanctuary law, which is why locals worried about illegal immigration have turned to the voters.

The Stop Oregon Sanctuaries campaign submitted roughly 110,000 signatures last week to qualify an anti-sanctuary measure for the November ballot, more than the 88,000 required, stunning liberal activists and laying the groundwork for a landmark ballot battle.

“This has national ramifications and our opponents know that,” said Cynthia Kendoll, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which led the petition drive. “The thing that people don’t realize is that very seldom do citizens get to vote on immigration issues. They’re always legislated upon us. And that’s particularly the case in Oregon. We never get a say.”

Oregon may be ahead of the game, but efforts to bypass lawmakers and bring sanctuary repeals before the voters are gaining interest as the number of jurisdictions adopting measures aimed at thwarting federal immigration law explodes.

As of May, 564 states and localities had adopted sanctuary policies, growing by 650 percent during the Obama administration and nearly doubling during President Trump’s first year, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

The flurry of sanctuary activity has prompted a backlash: In California, more than a dozen localities have passed ordinances or resolutions against the state law, but so far no state sanctuary measure has been repealed.

“I think there’s going to be more of a movement as people realize that enforcement of our laws is good because it protects the community,” said Shari Rendall, FAIR director of state and local director. “I think people are very tired of our laws not being enforced.”

One of those is Don Rosenberg, an “angel” father whose son Drew was killed in a 2010 car crash in San Francisco with a Honduras man who had entered the country illegally but was granted temporary protected status.

Mr. Rosenberg is spearheading the Fight Sanctuary State campaign, which was cleared Tuesday to begin gathering signatures for a proposed initiative, the Community Protection Act, to reverse state laws on sanctuary status and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

The initiative, which needs 365,880 signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot, comes after organizers pulled a previous referendum campaign to repeal Senate Bill 54, the 2017 law restricting state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Fight Sanctuary State has framed the campaign as a battle between citizens and the Democratic state legislature and governor, insisting that “only the Community Protection Act will end sanctuary policies in California.”

“Who will save California from illegal immigrant violence?” says one social-media post. “Not Sacramento! Not the courts!”

In Humboldt County, California, the board of supervisors has decided to let the voters decide, agreeing Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot asking whether the county should adopt sanctuary status for illegal immigrants.

A proposed Nevada initiative to prevent the state and cities from implementing sanctuary laws suffered a setback in May when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that a portion of the ballot language was “deceptive and misleading.”

The legal challenge, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, illustrated another challenge for proposals to repeal sanctuary laws: They’re up against powerful foes.

After signatures were submitted for Stop Oregon Sanctuaries, foes held press conferences in Portland and Salem to unveil Oregonians United Against Profiling, a coalition of more than 80 groups aimed at defeating the proposal, known as Initiative Petition 22.

“For 30 years, Oregon’s sanctuary law has protected Oregonians against unfair racial profiling,” said Andrea Williams, executive director of Causa, at Monday’s event. “Getting rid of this law opens the door to serious harassment and civil rights violations of our friends, coworkers, and family members simply because somebody may be perceived to be an undocumented immigrant.”

Ms. Kendoll disputed the racial-profiling charge. “This doesn’t have anything to do with race in anyway shape or form, but that’s always the card they play because they’ve got nothing else,” she said.

She said she fully expects to be outspent if the measure qualifies—the opposition has already lined up support from Nike, Columbia Sportswear and labor unions—but she also knows how to win a campaign on a shoestring budget.

In 2014, her group qualified a veto referendum of Oregon’s newly passed law giving driver cards to illegal immigrants. Voters repealed the state law by 66 to 34 percent, even though Ms. Kendoll said her side was out-fundraised by 11 to 1.

“When we did Measure 88 they were very confident, even cocky, that they had the state sewn up,” she said. “And they just got blown away. So this time I think they’re going, ‘We can’t let that happen again.’”

Going the initiative route means doing it the hard way, she said, but organizers have little choice in deep-blue Oregon.

“The only way to move the needle at all in this state is via the initiative process,” Ms. Kendoll said. “It’s very grassroots, it’s very time-consuming, but we collected signatures from every corner of this state, and people are just fed up. They’re fed up with policies that have carved out a niche, a protected class of people that are here illegally. Why are we doing that?”

As a result, she said, “we have no doubt that if this qualifies for the ballot that it will pass.”

What’s more, she believes that privately that the opposition agrees, given their efforts to stop the issue from going before the voters.

As she tells her foes, “You don’t want this to get on the ballot. You’re fighting to keep it off the ballot. So my thinking is, you know how it’s going to turn out.”

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