THE DALLES, Ore.—Community-based groups in the Columbia River Gorge including Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, Gorge ICE Resistance, Hood River Latino Network, NORCOR Community Resources Coalition, and Rural Organizing Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in support of ending the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility (NORCOR) contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The jail is the last county jail in Oregon to hold immigration detainees for ICE. The groups are located in and serve communities in Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, and Wasco Counties, which are also counties that share the operation costs of the mega-jail. The groups are represented by the ACLU of Oregon and Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP.
“Our community has come together to end NORCOR’s contract with ICE,” said Solea Kabakov, a member Gorge ICE Resistance. “We do not accept the imprisonment of immigrants in our public jail and refuse to allow our tax dollars to be used in the enforcement of federal immigration practices which are unjust and inhumane.”
Iván Resendiz Gutierrez, attorney with Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP, said NORCOR’s contract with the ICE seems to blur the line between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement, and places an unnecessary burden on limited local resources.
The brief quotes Martha Verduzco, founder and president of Hood River Latino Network, who says many in the community are hesitant to ask police for help, even when they are victims of a crime. “‘Someone may be hurting me, but because ICE is at NORCOR, I'm afraid to contact law enforcement because I’m afraid I will be taken away.’"
“The fear and division created by ICE at NORCOR degrades connections which are vital to rural life in our state,” said Hannah Harrod, organizer at the Rural Organizing Project. “Rural Oregonians rely on strong ties in their communities. The jail contract flies in the face of local values of inclusion and welcoming.
The groups have worked tirelessly to raise awareness within the Gorge community about the detention conditions faced by immigrant detainees. Consecutive daily protests have been held at the county jail for over 700 days. The protesters raise funds for immigrant detainees to afford commissary and phone calls to loved ones, services that while available at NORCOR, remain largely out-of-reach to most immigrants due to exorbitant prices charged by the jail.
Rev. John Boonstra, a United Church of Christ clergyperson, who frequently visits the jail to counsel detained immigrants, said the pain of family separations impacts everyone in the region.
“People from all walks of life have come together because of the tremendous harm ICE is causing our communities,” Rev. Boonstra said. “Folks here care about our friends and neighbors. We welcome immigrants in our communities, and we want our towns and cities to be vibrant and inclusive.”
The community groups expressed concern that NORCOR's federal immigration enforcement activities violate local policies of inclusion and nondiscrimination, as well as the 32-year-old state law that keeps local law enforcement from participating in or using resources for federal immigration enforcement. A ballot measure attempting to overturn the state law and require Oregon agencies to participate in federal immigration enforcement was overwhelmingly rejected by Oregon voters in 2018.
“Oregon voters reaffirmed our sanctuary status last year, it's unacceptable that the jail continues to be a cog in the feds’ wheel,” Kabakov said. “As long as NORCOR cooperates with ICE people are afraid and our community is less safe. This contract needs to end permanently.”
Leland Baxter-Neal, staff attorney at the ACLU of Oregon, says the reasons for the law’s passage 32 years ago remain true today. “Oregonians saw that the human and fiscal costs of immigration enforcement harms Oregon communities, which is exactly what’s happening with NORCOR. And just like today, it was clear then that local involvement in federal immigration enforcement increases instances of racial profiling by police leading to fear, distrust, and division.”
Litigation was filed last year by Innovation Law Lab and the Oregon Law Center challenging the jail’s ICE contract and its unlawful immigration enforcement policies, including its booking and release notifications. A judge in Wasco County ruled on the case in February, agreeing with the plaintiffs that certain practices were unlawful, but allowing NORCOR to continue its contract to detain immigration detainees and its booking notifications. Innovation Law Lab and Oregon Law Center appealed the decision, and the community groups’ brief was filed in support of their appeal. Attorneys on the brief include Iván Resendiz Gutierrez and Bruce L. Campbell of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP and Leland Baxter-Neal of the ACLU Foundation of Oregon.
The brief is online at https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/acluor_gorge_nor....
Gorge Ecumenical Ministries is an interfaith organization that works to strengthen and coordinate the collective action of faith communities in serving the spiritual, religious, human, and environmental needs of the Columbia Gorge and its people. Gorge Ecumenical Ministries unites diverse faith communities in a common concern for justice, freedom, peace, and environmental care.
Gorge ICE Resistance is a coalition of individuals and organizations in the Columbia River Gorge that works to uplift the messages of immigrants detained at NORCOR, hold NORCOR leadership accountable, and end the jail's contract with ICE permanently.
Hood River Latino Network is a community organization serving the Gorge that works to empower and advocate for the most vulnerable by creating opportunities and making sure government is held accountable.
NORCOR Community Resources Coalition is a group of citizens from the Mid-Columbia region who are devoted to assisting the NORCOR Board in obtaining alternative funding which would terminate NORCOR’s contract with ICE, and to develop programs that will enhance NORCOR’s desirability as a corrections facility.
Rural Organizing Project is a statewide network of autonomous volunteer-run groups that are committed to advancing human dignity and democracy.