May 1 marks a full year of daily protests by a local group opposed to the housing of ICE detainees at the regional jail. Organizers estimated over 300 people attended a Saturday rally commemorating the anniversary.
The protests began last year in support of immigration detainees at the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections facility in The Dalles who went on a hunger strike to protest conditions.
A local group, the Gorge ICE Resistance, was joined by the Rural Organizing Project, members of the Portland-based Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, and the Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition. Several local activists spoke, as did clergy and other speakers.
Rosie Schneider, a leader with the Gorge ICE Resistance who lives in The Dalles, told the Chronicle, “We have not missed a single day since May 1, 2017. Wind, rain, smoke, snow, hail, cold and burning summer heat.”
On average, there are four to 10 protesters outside the jail each day. They protest Monday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m., and weekends from noon to one. She said the daily protests seek to draw awareness to the hunger strikers, to “inhumane conditions of ICE detainees being held at NORCOR” and in protest of what is seen as a violation of state law by holding detainees.
State law prohibits use of state resources to “detect or apprehend” undocumented immigrants. The regional jail has maintained it is doing neither. Officials also strongly disagree conditions are poor, saying detainees are treated the same as other inmates.
The jail also met demands of detainees, who twice went on strike. That included adding microwaves to jail units and updating technology so they could play music. They also improved menu offerings, clothing options, library offerings, and got access to outdoor yard space.
Clergy who are allowed to visit detainees have repeatedly asked the jail board to allow in-person visits, saying some detainees at the jail haven’t seen their children in years.
The jail stopped in-person visitation for all inmates several years ago as a cost-saving move.
At the rally, Schneider said, “We join together today and stand for the fearful. We will not let our neighbors, friends and community live in fear.”
She said the group stood in solidarity against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), its detention centers, and deportations. “No to our tax dollars and community allowing inhumane and unjust conditions.”
She said, “We will not stop until ICE is out of NORCOR.” The jail has held ICE detainees almost since it opened in 1999. The amount of detainees has waxed and waned, falling off completely for a time when a detention center was built in Tacoma.
When that center filled, detainees started being sent to other jails. The Dalles is one of two jails in Oregon that accepts detainees. Now, about 25-30 detainees are held at the jail at any given time.
Public interest in the housing of detainees was piqued locally after the election of President Donald Trump, who has taken a hardline stance against undocumented immigrants.