Yesterday I joined five leading activists from the social movements here in the Mid-Willamette Valley on a trip to The Dalles in order to support the hunger strikers and others being held there by ICE. On the ride to and from The Dalles I had the opportunity to learn from Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN, and four young people who have much to teach and who are totally dedicated to making real change.
The protest or vigil at the NORCOR facility was larger than I expected. The facility itself is a regional county jail, and I'm having difficulty believing that it is legal to hold people detained by ICE for alleged immigration violations in such a facility. To make matters worse, the people being held there by ICE have been denied basic human needs and, I think, basic human rights as well. As many as half of the people detained by ICE at the infamous Tacoma facility have taken part in hunger strikes, the facility in The Dalles is a place no one wants to be transferred to, and some of the people now held at The Dalles helped organize the strike and have been carrying it on there. This number includes one very brave woman who was doing the strike by herself. Being sent to The Dalles is therefore a kind of punishment.
First people are forced to emigrate, then they must live in fear of deportation, then they get picked up and sent to Tacoma, then they protest, and then they are punished for protesting. It's the most authoritarian approach possible under existing rules, and the system is pushing the envelope by sending people to NORCOR. And it seems likely that the situation will get much worse before it gets better.
I think that we were all struck by how motivated and knowledgeable the people carrying out the support activities in The Dalles are. They are a resistance community in the historic sense of the term, reminding me of the good people who contributed so much to the anti-draft struggles during the American war of aggression in Vietnam and the sanctuary movement in the 1980s. The Rural Organizing Project gets lots of credit for their important role in helping to sustain the effort in The Dalles. I thought that public support for the vigil or protest was strong.
The NORCOR facility is grim, as you would expect, and is located in an industrial park. The people driving by were most often working-class people, so their support meant a great deal to me.
After the action at NORCOR we were privileged to attend an educational community meeting in an Episcopal church. The people there had a good grasp of the issues. The striker's demands were for humane treatment and access to families, news and supporters. We learned that a victory of sorts was in the offing. This was detailed in press release today which reads:
Immigrant detainees end 6-day hunger strike at Oregon jail after victory
Local Clergy to Meet with Immigrant Detainees at NORCOR
The Dalles, OR - Immigrants detained at the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility (NORCOR), a rural jail in The Dalles, OR, have broken their 6-day hunger strike after NORCOR administrator Bryan Brandenburg committed to the hunger strikers to provide microwaves to heat their meals, radios and access to programs that inmates are offered.
“Why does it have to come to this? We’ve been asking for these things for five months. Why did we have to do a hunger strike?” asked one of the hunger strikers yesterday, “We need to stick together as people and fight for what we want to believe in. We can’t let them do whatever they want to us.”
Community members in The Dalles will continue their daily rallies today, May 5th from 5-6:30PM. On Saturday, May 6th from 12-2PM, organizations from across the state will join the growing Gorge ICE Resistance coalition in a rally to demand that Brandenburg honor his commitments to the hunger strikers, and an end to NORCOR’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“We are relieved that the hunger strikers are eating again, but sorely disappointed it took six days without food and very little water to get NORCOR to provide microwaves and radios,” says Solea Kabakov of Gorge ICE Resistance. “NORCOR has a reputation for its horrible treatment of those inside its walls despite its big budget. The Dalles is a wonderful community of people who take care of each other, and I question whether NORCOR shares our values and uses our tax dollars appropriately.”
Two of the hunger strikers reported that they had children outside, and had been in detention for over two years.
Four local clergy, members of the Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, will visit detainees held in NORCOR this morning. They will speak with those who participated in the hunger strike to hear their stories and express ongoing community support to hold NORCOR accountable for its relationship with ICE and treatment of immigrant detainees. Clergy visiting ICE detainees today include: Reverend Red Stevens of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in The Dalles, Pastor Tyler Beane Kelly of Zion Lutheran Church in The Dalles, Reverend Judy Zimmerman of Mid-Columbia Unitarian Universalists and Pastor Kelly Ryan of Bethel United Church of Christ in White Salmon.
NORCOR is a public jail funded by Hood River, Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam Counties. NORCOR’s participation in federal detention and deportation processes violates ORS 181A.820, which prevents state and local police from using Oregon public resources in enforcing federal immigration law.
Friday, May 5, 5-6:30pm and Saturday, May 6, 12-2pm: Rally in support of NORCOR ICE detainees (211 Webber St; The Dalles, OR 97058). Gorge ICE Resistance is a coalition of several local organizations throughout the Columbia Gorge who have formed to support the NORCOR hunger strikers, including Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, Somos Uno, Hood River Latino Network, Mid-Columbia Community Action Network, Gorge ReSisters, Community Action Network, Grassroots IMPACT, Protect Oregon Progress and more.
I think that it is especially significant that so many people understand the twin needs to maintaining solidarity and keeping up the pressure. It is also important that the people attending the meeting and doing the work have found a disciplined rhythm and approach to the work; all of us need to learn this. I want to give special respect to the woman who facilitated the meeting in the church (pictured above) and to her colleagues for being able to move through a complex situation with clarity and respecting people's time and comfort zones.
Coming away from the protest and meeting, I was thinking about how complicated this all is. The crisis is only going to get worse as economies in the south continue to falter, as the water crisis and other crises hit and as immigrants can't send money home and lose work. NORCOR signed a long-term contract with ICE; this contract may or may not be sustainable, but Tacoma will not be able to house everyone and we're going to be fighting for humane treatment in detention facilities and jails throughout our region for a long time to come. Dig in.
The victory we're looking at needs to be backed up by on-going action. Everyone who is available should join the rally tomorrow (Saturday) and on other days as well. As the people in The Dalles rightly emphasize, pressure matters.
A blurb from the ACLU supporting the action on Saturday describes NORCOR as "Oregon's secret ICE jail" and says:
The ICE detainees at NORCOR are being held in conditions unfit for any human being. They can't go outside. Instead, they're allowed time in a cinderblock room with no windows and netting over the open roof for about an hour a day, often before the sun comes up. There are walls covered with bugs. They aren't allowed visits from their friends or family. They aren't given socks. No one should be subject to this kind of treatment.
President Trump's ICE raids, mass detentions, and mass deportations are tearing Oregon families apart. It's time to get ICE out of NORCOR. Join us this Saturday, May 6, to rally and support those on hunger strike.
We stopped to eat and debrief in Hood River. We talked about how the system profits from human misery and the exploitation of labor. The young people want a consistent fight-back for real and radical objectives, and this is ultimately what counts. I think that it's up to us to follow their lead. I talked to our server at the restaurant with Ramon Ramirez and learned that she left a job as a responsible safety person in the fields because of how badly the growers treat the workers. She now works part-time in a community health center. She is one of those real people of conscience who lead at the base and remind the rest of us what the stakes are.