NORCOR, last jail in Oregon to hold immigration detainees, to end ICE contract

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
The Dalles, Ore. Aug. 21, 2020 5:02 p.m. Updated: Aug. 22, 2020 8:16 p.m.

The only jail in Oregon that holds federal immigration detainees has said it will end the practice.

The board that oversees the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility in The Dalles unanimously agreed on Thursday to initiate steps toward ending its contract with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement. The board declined an interview to explain what brought about the decision or the fiscal impact. But said in a statement the overall number detainees has dropped resulting in less revenue for the jail.


NORCOR is the last facility in the state to house ICE detainees. In the past, the regional jail has relied heavily on its federal contract to fulfill its budget. In some years, the contract had brought in more than $800,000 for the facility.

Related: Judge rules Oregon jail's contract with ICE doesn't violate state's sanctuary law

NORCOR, in turn, has provided additional detention space for ICE, sometimes housing detainees for months. ICE also contracts with the Northwest Detention Center, a private immigration detention facility in Tacoma, Washington. ICE declined to comment on how the loss of NORCOR would impact its operations.

In addition to housing ICE detainees, the jail houses inmates from Wasco, Gilliam, Sherman and Hood River counties, whose taxpayers fund the facility. In 2018, Josephine County ended a similar contract with ICE, citing legal vulnerabilities and lawsuits in other Oregon counties.

Portland immigration attorney Stephen Manning said NORCOR is finally listening to members of its community.

“That’s a really powerful thing that people can change,” Manning said. “We’re going to see the end of something that should’ve never begun ... . None of these public institutions should’ve been used for immigrant detention as a way to make a profit. And that’s the only reason that they entered into those contracts.”

Oregon is a so-called sanctuary state. A 1987 law here states police and other local law enforcement can’t use local resources to detect or apprehend people whose only violation is being in the United States in breach of federal immigration laws.

Last year, a Wasco County Judge ruled the jail did not violate Oregon’s sanctuary law, because ICE detainees “have been apprehended, arrested or seized by ICE prior to arriving at NORCOR.”

Related: NORCOR changes its immigration policy


NORCOR has held both juvenile and adult detainees.

University of Washington Professor Angelina Godoy directs the Center for Human Rights and co-authored a report about two corrections facilities — NORCOR and the Cowlitz County Jail — that house juvenile ICE detainees.

“It’s hugely significant,” she said of NORCOR ending its contract. “It’s a testament to the power of when people stand up for their values, democracy can work.”

Godoy said the two jails are unique in the country because they house juveniles, and she argued ICE has exceeded its legal authority to hold minors.

Immigration is a civil, not a criminal offense. In the last five years, ICE has sent at least 14 juveniles to NORCOR, according to Godoy’s report.

The report notes that prior to their arrest, juveniles had been living with their families, largely on the East Coast, before ICE separated them and sent them to jails across the country.

Congress has designated the Office of Refugee Resettlement as the agency charged with representing immigrant youth.

“ICE, as a component of DHS, must transfer any child in its custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement,” Godoy’s report states. It also notes that when ICE apprehends and separates children, the agency is violating a constitutional right to family integrity.

“It is unclear why the youth housed at Cowlitz and NORCOR remain in ICE custody rather than being transferred to [the Office of Refugee Resettlement],” the April report states.

ICE has classified some of the minors as “national security” or “public safety” threats. But Godoy notes juveniles in the jails are being treating like criminals and housed with criminal defendants, rather than accused of committing a civil violation because of immigration status, which is a less punitive standard of detention.

“ICE, in fact, has no authority to punish migrants for criminal offenses; while some people detained by ICE may previously have been convicted of a crime, or may still face criminal charges in another jurisdiction, ICE detention is limited to administrative immigration violations,” Godoy wrote.

Godoy said she hopes NORCOR’s decision to scrap its ICE contract will put pressure on Cowlitz County to take similar actions. But, she said, she thinks ICE will continue to look for other jails willing to contract with the agency.