The following statement comes to us from our friends at the GorgeReSisters group. The Oregonian report on the lawsuit reminds us that a spokeswoman for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said that it "didn't appear the jail was breaking state law because it wasn't using resources to detect or arrest people" when people held at the NORCOR facility were on hunger strike in May. That was a rather cold-hearted and bumbling thing to say at the time, and it went largely unmarked by people working on immigrant rights and by our opposition. Intended or not, the lawsuit detailed here goes to the issue of power relations in Oregon. Will the Governor and the Attorney General side with immigrant rights groups or with the detention and corrections industries?
THE DALLES, Ore.—A lawsuit filed today by several Oregon taxpayers is challenging the use of a publicly funded jail to detain non-citizens on behalf of the federal government. For the past 30 years, Oregon law has prohibited local law enforcement to engage in federal immigration enforcement. The Northern Oregon Regional Correction facility (NORCOR) is a public jail located in The Dalles and funded by Hood River, Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties. Since 2014, In addition to housing local inmates, NORCOR has been housing people the federal government wants detained for immigration purposes—even though Oregon law expressly prohibits using state or local public funds for federal immigration enforcement.
“NORCOR officials have been violating Oregon law by using taxpayer money to detain people for federal immigration purposes,” said Jessica Campbell, Co-Director of the Rural Organizing Project, a statewide network of over 60 groups organizing for human dignity across Oregon. “This is not only a violation of the law, it’s a violation of the trust Oregonians have in their locally elected officials and their public institutions.” Campbell and others, none of whom are directly involved in the lawsuit, have been advocating for NORCOR to end its program for immigration detention.
NORCOR, located in The Dalles, Oregon, is a public entity constructed in 1999 specifically to house inmates from the four counties that finance it. The construction of the NORCOR facility was financed by taxpayers under a General Obligation bond and more than half of the facility’s annual operating expenses are paid for by taxpayers, including roughly $2 million provided by Wasco County taxpayers.
In 2014, NORCOR officials contracted with the federal government to house people the federal government wants detained due to immigration issues, even though Oregon law has prohibited the use of state or local funds on federal immigration enforcement for three decades. Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently re-affirmed this principle when she declared Oregon a sanctuary state. By using Oregon resources for federal immigration in violation of Oregon law, the case contends that NORCOR is misusing taxpayer money.
“We applaud the courage of those who are challenging NORCOR’s use of local public funds and hope that NORCOR stops detaining people for federal immigration purposes,” said Andrea Williams, the Executive Director of Causa Oregon, a statewide immigrant rights organization. “We must uphold the integrity of Oregon’s 30 year-old law that limits our local resources from being used to enforce questionable federal immigration policies,” explained Williams, who is not involved in the lawsuit.
Lawyers for NORCOR will have an opportunity to respond to the lawsuit before the judge makes a decision.
Stephen W. Manning, a lawyer with Immigrant Law Group PC and a member of the Innovation Law Lab, represents several of the taxpayer plaintiffs.