The regional jail board was handed a petition at its last meeting with 664 signatures, and counting, asking that the jail immediately stop its contract to house federal immigration detainees.
The Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility board received the petition, from Solea Kabakov of Gorge ICE Resistance, without comment.
Jail Administrator Bryan Brandenburg said via email that he couldn’t comment on the petition because the matter is under litigation. The jail was sued last July by four Wasco County residents who said the jail was violating state law by housing the detainees.
The resistance group has been picketing the jail daily for over a year in protest of its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees.
The Rev. Richard “Red” Stevens, priest-in-charge at St. Paul Episcopal Church, who has been visiting with detainees, said at the June 21 meeting, “I’m a little frustrated it’s taken pictures of sad eyed children to bring more attention to our problem.”
He was referring to extensive coverage of the “zero tolerance” policy of the Trump Administration, later dropped, that criminally charged all adults crossing into the U.S. and separated them from their children. As many as 2,300 children were separated from their parents.
He also didn’t like the labeling of immigrants into “worthy” and “slightly less worthy” categories. Worthy are “Dreamers,” those undocumented immigrants who came here as youth and are protected from deportation because they are pursuing higher education, for example, he said. But he described a detainee whose kids grew up here.
He’s a chef in a high-end restaurant, but he got into an argument one night with his girlfriend and drove off in a huff. He got pulled over for drunk driving. “That’s the end of his life,” Stevens said. “He wasn’t a dreamer so he’s down the chain.”
He asked about another undocumented immigrant who doesn’t have family to be separated from. “Is he less worthy of having his life disrupted?”
This worker’s mom and dad died. He might have cousins in Mexico but wasn’t sure. He said the man had no one, and couldn’t even provide an emergency number to contact.
“His favorite possession was his car and his best friend was his next door neighbor.”
The car happened to have a taillight out, and he ended up in jail facing deportation. “This is one of those taillight stories. I have two taillight stories,” Stevens said.
“Is a childless man, a parentless man, less worthy of being accorded human justice?” he asked.
Tim Schechtel passed around a photo to the board members of a crying child at a fence, as an adult on the other side kissed their hand. He asked the board to look at the people in the photo for a minute a day for a week.
“Notice how you feel, not what you are thinking. Ask yourself this question: Can I separate the relative values of my and others beliefs from the absolute highest value, the life value?”
“Our morals do not serve us if we are unable to translate them into ethical behavior.”
Gretchen Kimsey read a letter to the board saying “It is a moral shame that we are participating in a system that labels a person as criminal for seeking asylum in our country.”
She said the jail’s mission was to provide public safety through secure confinement, reformative programs and supervised community reentry.
“Please follow your mission. Provide for public safety and end the ICE contract this year, knowing that we intend to continue our efforts to work collaboratively with you.”
Joel Kabakov said he has protested the jail “as it participated in the business of detaining immigrants,” some who have lived here for a generation, contributing to “the quality of our lives, bringing in the bounty of the harvest.” He said immigration laws were “clearly being severely and viciously overapplied more as an institutional profit center than as any form of appropriate setting for non-criminal detainees.”
Kabakov said later that things happen in threes, and both Joseph County broke its contract with ICE as did the city of Springfield. “Guess who's next? NORCOR, baby!”
She said Gorge ICE Resistance also attends local city council and county commission meetings, “So we’re really trying to be clear with our concerns as a community to the decisionmakers.”
The group also created a short documentary about ICE detention at NORCOR and has shown it to various groups and individuals.