Most Oregonians don’t know that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a contract to jail people in deportation proceedings in a county jail called Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, or NORCOR, just 90 miles outside of downtown Portland in The Dalles. Why would they? As we have seen in the last few months, ICE really wants to operate in secret and with no public oversight. But several months ago, a group of brave detainees went hunger strike to bring attention to conditions at NORCOR.
The detainees began their hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions at the Tacoma Detention Center, and soon found themselves transferred to NORCOR, another facility with grossly inhumane conditions. Undeterred by the transfer, which seemed to the detainees like a punishment for their initial protest, they courageously continued their strike and refocused their demands. Soon, more immigration detainees at NORCOR joined in and local residents formed a group called Gorge ICE Resistance to support them. But despite the desperate pleas of the immigration detainees and local residents, demands for humane conditions at NORCOR have largely been ignored by the jail administration.
We have been investigating this situation since April. Our investigation has revealed multiple violations of rights guaranteed to immigration detainees including: interference with access to counsel and the courts; inadequate medical care; inadequate nutrition; denial of religious liberty; inability to meaningfully exercise; no means of visitation with family and exorbitant phone rates; poor hygiene and sanitation; and inadequate clothing for cold temperatures.
Unfortunately, things aren’t any better for other jail inmates. The jail administrator has publicly acknowledged that the harsh conditions experienced by immigration detainees are similar to the conditions experienced by all the prisoners held at NORCOR. Of course, this does not make it right. After months of attempts to work with the jail staff, very few changes have actually been made and the cruel and unconstitutional conditions continue.
This week, we sent the jail a letter outlining the numerous unconstitutional conditions our investigation has revealed and asked NORCOR to address these unlawful conditions immediately. The jail has two choices, as we see it; either remove all immigration detainees from NORCOR or dramatically overhaul conditions. As we said in our letter, if they don’t fix things, we will sue.