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Faith Leaders Call for Better Conditons for ICE Detainees in Ore. Jail

Clergy have been gathering stories from immigrant detainees inside of a jail in The Dalles. (Yanely Rivas)
Clergy have been gathering stories from immigrant detainees inside of a jail in The Dalles. (Yanely Rivas)
April 27, 2018

THE DALLES, Ore. – A year ago, federal immigration detainees at a county jail in The Dalles engaged in their first hunger strike over conditions in the facility. This weekend, advocates for immigrant rights and faith leaders from around the state will be back to highlight the stories of detainees in The Dalles.

The Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold up to 40 detainees. Hunger strikes erupted last year and again in November over inadequate food, poor conditions and lack of access to medical care and legal aid.

Rae Ann Lafrenz, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, says detainees aren't allowed to see family members.

"That's a big one because these are people who are detained without any rights or ability for them to see or touch their family members,” says Lafrenz. “The only in-person visitors who can come into the visitation rooms within the jail are clergy members, and they're only allowed to come in once a week."

The Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice wants the NORCOR board of directors to reinstate family visits. Faith leaders are gathering at NORCOR at 10 a.m. Saturday and holding a joint vigil with the local group Gorge ICE Resistance at noon on Saturday.

Groups say the jail isn't set up for long-term imprisonment of federal detainees. Lafrenz says the hunger strike in November achieved some small victories, such as shoes for those imprisoned.

Clergy have been collecting stories from people in ICE custody and Lafrenz says that's important because detainees are essentially cut off from the world. That's different even from other people within the jail.

"Because of law, you know, they have to publish the names, everybody who's detained, and I think there's even photos of them. So you know where your people are, right?” says Lafrenz. “It's not the same for the immigrants who are being detained there. Families don't even often know where they are and people get transferred back and forth between The Dalles and Tacoma."

Tacoma is home to the region's largest immigration facility, the Northwest Detention Center, which has also seen frequent hunger strikes from detainees.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR