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ICE detainee hunger strike begins again

A second hunger strike by immigration detainees at the regional jail in The Dalles has started, with strikers objecting to largely the same issues that sparked a strike in May.

The strike was announced in a press release Wednesday from groups called the Gorge ICE Resistance Coalition. In an updated release Thursday night, the group announced 18 detainees went on the strike, plus two people from the Resistance coalition, including Solea Kabakov of The Dalles.

“Detainees demands include nutritious meals, family visitation, cheaper phone calls, cheaper commissary for hygiene products and food to supplement the unhealthy meals they are provided, and access to a stocked library and recreation yard,” the release stated.

Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility Administrator Bryan Brandenburg said Thursday afternoon 19 detainees had by then missed three consecutive meals. By jail policy and that of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), going without food is not considered a hunger strike until nine consecutive meals are missed, he said.

Brandenburg bristles at claims that conditions in the jail are not humane. “There are no inhumane conditions at NORCOR,” he said. “They would like to go back to Tacoma.”

Jail officials have said the jail doesn’t have the scale of the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, which holds 1,500 people, and cannot offer the amenities it does. The jail holds about 160 people.

The Wednesday press release quoted a hunger striker as saying, “The conditions in NORCOR need more attention. We are not prisoners, we are immigrants with ICE problems.”

Detainees have stated previously that they have not objected to the treatment they receive from jail staff, but only to conditions there.

In May, the hunger strikers asked for microwaves to heat food. Those were placed in the jail a few months later. They also requested the ability to listen to music, and have new tablets put in the jail for video chats and emails.

Brandenberg said the jail has a licensed dietician overseeing meals. The press release stated detainees have to buy commissary items including feminine hygiene products.

Brandenburg said feminine hygine products are provided for free by the jail.

The press release said, “As a result of expensive phone calls, no personal visits allowed and the remote location of the jail, the detainees are distanced from support systems which provide moral support, legal counsel and other vital services when they are needed most.”

Kabakov, who has also begun a hunger strike, said, “many of these immigrants have lost their livelihoods, lost connections to family and have had their belongings confiscated. Their situation is so dire and hopeless they have resorted to putting their lives at risk to raise awareness and drive change.

“This is why we are striking in solidarity, to amplify their message and draw attention to this gross injustice. My tax dollars fund this jail and I am ashamed of the way these people are being treated.”

Phone calls at the jail are 25 cents a minute anywhere in Oregon, and 21 cents per minute outside of Oregon. In Tacoma, the rate for calls is 10 cents per minute for local calls and 15 cents for long-distance calls.

The jail here stopped allowing personal visits with inmates several years ago, saying they took up too much staff time.

The Gorge ICE Resistance coalition has been picketing outside the regional jail since the first hunger strike began May 1. In its Nov. 1 press release, it said the pickets had been going on for 185 consecutive days as a show of support.

“They gather in solidarity at NORCOR every day until the jail terminates its contract with ICE and releases the detainees who should not be imprisoned,” the press release stated.

John Boonstra of Gorge Ecumenical Ministries said in the press release that “I have heard the stories of vulnerable people living under conditions that are intolerable. Their voices for basic needs have fallen on a jail administration that insists they are criminals.”

Brandenburg said the jail only takes detainees with “prior or current criminal convictions and are here illegally.”

Brandenburg said when he has learned of detainees coming to the jail without any criminal charges or convictions, he has sent them back to Tacoma.

Brandenburg has said previously the detainees are treated the same as other inmates at the jail.

The press release noted a lawsuit was filed in July by Wasco County residents contending the jail was violating a state law that prohibits the state criminal justice system from using state resources to detect or apprehend people in the country illegally.

Brandenburg said, “We have not been violating Oregon law. We do not detect or apprehend. We house, and we only house those who have prior or current criminal convictions and are here illegally.”

Gorge ICE Resistance is having a rally in solidarity for the hunger strikers on Sunday, Nov. 5 from 1-3 p.m. at the jail, located at 211 Webber St., in The Dalles.

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