After two straight years of daily protests against the housing of immigration detainees at the regional jail, the group that began the protest has moved to a monthly protest instead, a leader said.
Meanwhile, another group, which shares some membership with the protest group, continues its efforts to work with the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility on the same goal of ending immigration detention at the jail.
The first protest was held May 1, 2017, and continued every day for the next 730 days, said Solea Kabakov, who belongs to both the protest group, Gorge ICE Resistance, and the other group, NORCOR Community Resources Coalition.
The last daily protest was held May 1. The schedule for the monthly protests has not been finalized, she said.
Kabakov said, “What’s happened over the last two years is that we have effected change at NORCOR in terms of some of the conditions of people in detention there that are held for ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). For example, the meals are improved, they have access to jobs and programs that they did not have previously, and we have strong communication between folks on the inside and the outside.”
She said they’re getting treated better, “but they’re still there.” The jail houses anywhere from a few detainees to about 20 at a time.
The Community Resources Coalition meets directly with jail administration to help further improve conditions of immigrants, Kabakov said. An example is a recently set-up call line that allows inmates to directly call an administrator.
She said both the protests and the direct meetings with jail administrators matter. “Without the pressure on the outside and the visibility to the public, I don’t know that we would’ve got a seat at the table. So they do play in tandem.”
The coalition is also working with the jail on budgetary issues. The jail budgeted $730,000 in revenue in the current fiscal year from housing ICE detainees.
“The jail administration claims that the revenue from ICE is not easily let go,” Kabakov said. “So we’re working that angle as well.”
She said the groups has seen improved communications since the resignation late last year of former Jail Administrator Bryan Brandenburg, who regularly tangled with detention opponents at jail board meetings.
She called his departure “very significant. It actually caused the jail to have to really look deeper at finance since that was really his area of expertise and/or his role, so I think they’re learning more about the process, the budget, how it works. They are now, I feel, welcoming to input from the community and that’s an amazing improvement.”
Of the decision to modify the protests, Kabakov said the group felt they’d been effective so they don’t want to stop them altogether. “We went to be there in solidarity but we also realize that people are continuing to be held there and so we want to focus our energies on what will really effect change the greatest.”
She said, “We have better communication with the jail administration so we’ve focused more effort on the conversations and meetings that we’re trying to make further improvements and moving toward getting rid of ICE in that way.”
She added, “While standing vigil feels good to us to be there, we need to take that time and energy to push harder on terminating the contract.”
The group’s main contention is that “it’s inhumane to hold people in a jail situation when they are being held on a civil charge of being undocumented or having an issue with their documentation. They’re not there serving a crime, they’re held on a civil charge.”
They also believe the contract “violates the heart of Oregon sanctuary law, at least the spirit of it. We don’t want our public money, our tax dollars, going to violate what we feel is a very important statewide sanctuary law.”
A judge ruled earlier this year that the jail did not violate the sanctuary law by holding detainees, since it was not “detecting or apprehending” people.
To the argument that detainees will be housed somewhere, so why not here, Kabakov said if the contract is ended, “then at least it’s not our tax dollars. If every community could stand up and take responsibility and say no to ICE, they’d have nowhere to jail them.”