A hunger strike by immigration detainees was “paused” at the regional jail Saturday after detainees said concessions were promised by jail and immigration officials.
They said they may resume the strike if conditions don’t improve.
Meanwhile, Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility Administrator Bryan Brandenburg said no agreement was made in order to stop the strike, which he said lasted three days, not four as claimed by supporters of the strikers.
He said it ended voluntarily.
Brandenburg and supporters of the strikers have consistently given differing accounts regarding this strike and a previous one in May.
The Gorge ICE Resistance Coalition, which has a goal of ending the jail’s contract to house ICE detainees, said in a Monday press release that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and jail officials negotiated an agreement in which strikers were promised milk five times a week, two hot meals on weekends, the opportunity to wear warmer clothing and shoes, three hours of free video-conferencing a month, improved library options that include books in Spanish, access to actual outdoor yard space instead of a small concrete area with a partially open roof, and to be seen by doctors.
Brandenburg said neither he nor ICE conducted negotiations with strikers.
“I want to make clear that none of these items were agreed to prior to the resumption of meals, and ICE never agreed to anything in relation to any of these items that are being stated by the ICE resisters,” Brandenburg said.
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said in an email, “ICE officials met with the NORCOR detainees to listen to their concerns. Their concerns are being carefully reviewed for appropriate follow-up.”
Brandenbug said he’d been talking about providing several of the requested items for awhile, and told detainees Monday they would get milk five days a week, hot breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and they will get one hour of free video visiting a week, which is actually four hours a month.
“And I had been working on providing access to outdoor recreation for awhile but due to staffing issues we hadn’t been able to do that, but plan to start that within the next couple weeks.”
Brandenburg maintains the hunger strike was started as a way for detainees to get sent back to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, a large immigration facility that has more amenities.
He said detainees have always had the right to be seen by doctors. He said six medical requests have been made since July, two by the same person, and all were seen by medical personnel.
All inmates will have access for one hour a week of outdoor recreation.
Detainees are being allowed their own personal tennis shoes if they have them.
He said he didn’t know about any expanded offerings of Spanish language books in the jail library. He said the library already has some books, and there are Spanish language offerings on tablets, which detainees can pay to download items from.
Facebook posts stated detainees were offered KFC if they broke the strike.
Brandenburg said only that, “I may have provided some special food after it was all over.”
By jail and ICE policy, a hunger strike is not considered to be underway until nine consecutive meals are missed. When that point happens, strikers are weighed, their vitals are taken, urinalysis is done, and they get a review of their current condition and they are seen by a mental health counselor as well.
The strike started with 20 people and ended with 17 people, all men.
Solea Kabakov, a leader of the Gorge ICE Resistance, was one of two people on the outside who also went on hunger strike. She didn’t eat from Nov. 1 until 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5, for a total of four days.
“At first it was not too bad,” she said. “Hungry, irritable, headaches, but by the fourth day it was actually scary. I had a lot of nausea, pain in my stomach and lower intestines, really bad headache. I couldn’t focus my eyes very well, couldn’t focus mentally and was pretty much fatigued.”
She wasn’t bedridden but said she wouldn’t have been able to drive a car, for example.
Another person also went on hunger strike with her, but chose to remain anonymous.
A large protest outside the jail on Sunday drew 100 people, said Kabakov. They had a sign-in sheet to keep track of attendance. “We were chanting and had our music going and they heard us inside and it was really inspiring. That felt really good.”
Brandenburg said he estimated the protest drew just 20 people or so.
The Gorge ICE Resistance has been protesting daily outside the jail since detainees first began a hunger strike May 1.
Brandenburg has stressed that all immigration detainees at the jail have current or previous criminal charges. He said when he has found detainees sent to the jail without any current or past criminal history, he sends them back to Tacoma.
ACLU attorney Kelly Simon wrote in an article for ACLU of Oregon Saturday that “nearly all of the detainees held at NORCOR have no criminal matter pending. NORCOR is holding people in jail for ICE even though they have already completed their sentence, or the crime they committed required no jail time. For example, one of the detainees was being held at NORCOR had long finished her obligations to the state for her minor possession charge.”
Haley, the ICE spokeswoman, said, “all of the detainees at NORCOR have prior criminal convictions.”
She said those in ICE detention are not being held on any criminal matter, but on the civil matter of their immigration proceedings.
Kabakov said Gorge ICE Resistance would continue to push on the jail to break the contract with ICE.
The ICE contract brought the jail about $500,000 last fiscal year and is slated to bring in about $1 million this fiscal year.
Now, typically about 20 detainees are housed at the jail.