The Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility (NORCOR) will terminate its housing contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), the jail announced Thursday.
The NORCOR Board of Directors voted unanimously during an Aug. 20 meeting to discontinue housing all custodies for ICE, and the jail management will “initiate the steps within contractual requirements to terminate the housing agreements.” They will give the board an update at their September meeting, said a NORCOR press release.
While the regional jail has faced public pressure to terminate their ICE contracts for years, the decision to terminate the contracts “comes as the overall numbers of in custody episodes has declined over the past year, decreasing the reliance of revenue for the NORCOR budget,” according to a press release.
NORCOR’s federal inmate housing contract is expected to contribute $268,000 to the jail’s total revenue for both adult and juvenile detention facilities in the 2020/21 fiscal year — compared to $820,000 in the 2019/20 fiscal year and $913,872 in the 2018/19 fiscal year — according to NORCOR budget proposal documents.
While NORCOR’s ICE contract has seen a significant reduction in revenue, NORCOR’s housing contract with the U.S. Marshals saw a significant increase in the 2020/21 budget jumping from $23,200 and $18,000 in 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively, to $891,500 in the proposed budget for the 2020/21 fiscal year. Funds from this contract go exclusively to the Adult Corrections facility in the 2020/21 budget, while ICE funds are split between Adult Corrections and the Juvenile Detention Facility.
NORCOR Board President Bob Benton could not be reached for comment by press time.
Gorge ICE Resistance, a coalition of organizations that supports detainees on hunger strike and calls for the removal of the immigration detention center in The Dalles, said that they will “monitor closely” as NORCOR goes through the process of canceling its contracts with ICE.
“While we celebrate this victory for the Gorge community, we recognize the fight for justice continues,” said Solea Kabakov, an organizer
with Gorge ICE Resistance. “We must reverse the militarization of our borders and dismantle ICE altogether in defense of human rights. We will continue opposing ICE until all immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers are welcomed with open arms.”
Gorge ICE Resistance formed back in May 2017 to support a group of immigration detainees who organized a hunger strike to protest poor living conditions. The group has been picketing the regional jail since, in addition to organizing marches, rallies and vigils calling for the jail to terminate its ICE contracts. Additionally, local clergy and immigration attorneys have provided support for immigrant detainees through regular visits and fundraisers.
“I’m so grateful to our NORCOR Board for taking the high road,” said Red Stevens, a volunteer clergy member who visits with people detained at NORCOR, including ICE detainees. “Hopefully, this signals a return to the rehabilitation and rebuilding of our close community, without the need to profit from the humanitarian nightmares of outcasts and refugees.”
NORCOR was the last regional jail in the State of Oregon to house federal immigration detainees. ICE does still operate a field office and detention center out of Sheridan, but the nearest ICE detention centers to the Gorge are in Tacoma.