ACLU Threatens Lawsuit over ICE Detainee Conditions in Oregon Jail

The ACLU of Oregon claims conditions at a Central Oregon jail are inhumane for ICE detainees and inmates alike.

Anti-Trump protest in November 2016. (Joe Riedl)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is threatening to sue over conditions for immigration detainees at a jail in The Dalles.

In letter sent to the administrators of Northern Oregon Regional Correction Facility, the ACLU demands access to doctors, lawyers and exercise, among other changes.

Citing testimony from "dozens" of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees the ACLU of Oregon has received since April 2017, the watchdogs concluded detainees suffer from conditions that violate both U.S. and Oregon Constitutions.

These include barriers to free legal counsel or the courts, difficulty obtaining visitations or phone calls to family, improper hygiene or protection from the elements, and inadequate nutrition and medical care.

Related: Why is an Oregon county jail holding immigrant detainees in a sanctuary state?

NORCOR has had an agreement with ICE since 2012 to house detainee "overflow" from Oregon's main detention center in Tacoma, Wash. Currently NORCOR allocates 40 beds to ICE detainees. The ACLU claims that the jail regularly holds between 5 and 30 detainees at a time.

WW reported in May that immigration activists believed some detainees were sent to NORCOR as "punishment." A Tacoma detainee was allegedly sent to NORCOR after he started a hunger strike at the detention center, demanding hot food and in-person visitations.

"NORCOR is a cruel and inhumane place to be," says ACLU Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos in a statement.

The ACLU's letter reports some detainees losing up to 7 pounds in a week.

Some detainees have no access to an outdoor space for sometimes months at a time, and another reported being allowed only 45 minutes a week of exercise, the ACLU says.

In the formal letter, Dos Santos adds that because undocumented immigrants are considered "civil" detainees, they are "entitled to even greater constitutional protection than convicted prisoners." However, the letter continues, "conditions of confinement at NORCOR fail to meet even the more limited standards applicable to prisoners."

NORCOR administrators expect ICE to increase its budget contribution to the jail from over $500,000 in the 2016-17 fiscal year to more than $1 million.  The ACLU believes this would increase the number of detainees brought to NORCOR from Tacoma.

However, on May 16, voters in Wasco, Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam counties voted against a $1.3 million annual property tax measure to continue subsidizing NORCOR.

Because the ACLU doubts NORCOR can bring its standards up before accommodating more detainees, it asks NORCOR to "immediately remove all immigration detainees from NORCOR and provide the ACLU with assurances that conditions will be improved for all persons held in custody at NORCOR."

Detainees held a six-day hunger strike in May. That month, The Dalles-area residents and clergy formed the Gorge ICE Resistance which protested outside of NORCOR every day of the strike.

Longtime WW reporter Corey Pein wrote a piece for national magazine The Baffler this month crawling through the Kafkaesque world of immigration policies at Pacific Northwest facilities including NORCOR.

Sarah Armstrong, the Oregon ACLU's communications and outreach director, says NORCOR has 30 days to respond to the foundation's letter.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.