About a month ago, a controversial page on the regional jail’s website that listed criminal charges against immigration detainees who are held at the jail was taken down.
Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey, the supervising sheriff of the adult jail, met with Teresa Hepker, a member of the NORCOR Community Resources Coalition (NCRC), who had asked that the list be taken down.
“That afternoon, it was gone,” Lohrey said. “Just take it off. Who uses it? Nobody. They [NCRC] would see it, it would irritate them.”
Still listed is a daily total of how many detainees are being held at the jail.
The listing of criminal charges was first ordered displayed by then-jail administrator Bryan Brandenburg a year ago.
At the time, Brandenburg said he was doing it to “appease” protesters who have actively opposed the housing of detainees at the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility (NORCOR) in The Dalles.
He said it was a way to show the jail wasn’t housing people whose only offense was being in the country illegally, which is a civil matter, but that they had a criminal history.
Lohrey said he was told that the list was one of the things “causing friction between” the jail and protesters of the jail’s ICE contract. “Well, I don’t want friction.”
Lohrey said the contentious environment between U.S. Immigration and Custome Enforcement (ICE) contract opponents and the regional jail was “a breakdown in communications.”
The jail was sued over its housing of immigration detainees, and another group, the Gorge ICE Resistance, picketed the jail daily for two straight years. The lawsuit concluded with a ruling that housing detainees was legal under Oregon law, but the jail could not notify ICE when foreign-born prisoners were released. The jail said it had stopped such notifications before the ruling.
Jail board meetings were well-attended and often saw heated exchanges between Brandenburg and audience members.
When Brandenburg left, the jail didn’t hire a new administrator but moved to a model with an oversight sheriff and an oversight juvenile director to help run the adult and juvenile jails.
Since Brandenburg left last winter, Hepker said “communication has been more open on both sides and we’ve been able to discuss and resolve issues. We’re being courteous to each other these days.”
Hepker said the NCRC had asked Brandenburg to take down the listing of criminal charges earlier. “And he was the instigator of it in the first place because we believe he was looking for justification [to house immigration detainees]; ways to color the public opinion.”
She said an immigration attorney who works in the Seattle area said the paperwork that goes with detainees has minimal information, “and they don’t take time to see whether that might have been a conviction, a dismissal, a dropping of charges.
“There’s a lot of question about the accuracy of the information that was being posted, not to mention the verbiage that was being posted,” she said. “Like ‘drugs,’ ok, what does ‘drugs’ mean?”
She said she told Lohrey that the information about the charges against detainees “could not be depended on. NORCOR says they get assurances from ICE that these people are all of some criminal history but there isn’t any way to check that and know for sure, and its contradicted by people who have been interviewed.”
Clergy and attorneys are able to speak with detainees and “the stories we have heard have been pretty horrendous and it leads us to believe the criminal portion is a public relations ploy and it doesn’t mean anything.”
She said, “There are people who say, ‘Well, they’re horrible, we ought to know how horrible they are.’ It was put there to make people’s mind go to, ‘They are all criminals, all these people seeking asylum are criminals, all these people mobbing the border are criminals,’ and that’s not the case.”
She said some of the detainees at NORCOR do have criminal histories. “And as far as we can tell, they’ve served whatever sentence they delivered. We haven’t heard that there are pending charges. If there were pending charges they would probably be in a jail somewhere awaiting trial.”
She said information about detainees such as criminal background and where they are being held is “closely held” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ICE won’t release this information to the general public or likely to the sheriff, either.”
She said, “ICE is in charge of these people. The only thing NORCOR is in charge of is their health and welfare.”
They know of two detainees who have self-deported from NORCOR. Her group believes that the detainees, who come from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, are sent here as punishment for being assertive or outspoken, because the detention center is not full.
She said the NCRC has been meeting with Lohrey and Jail Commander Dan Lindhorst regularly to keep channels of communication open.
Another positive step has been an agreement by the jail to allow an immigration attorney to meet once a month with detainees to give them a legal orientation presentation. She’s also able to meet with detainees individually. It allows her to reach more people and takes less jail staff time.
The group also found it was impossible to bring fresh local fruit to detainees and others in jail because law requires the food meet USDA standards. They learned fruit processors only do USDA standards for specific orders and don’t produce a surplus.
Also new is allowing in-person visits on Saturdays for detainees who have been there more than 30 days.