Multnomah County pushes Biden administration to stop using tear gas at Portland ICE facility

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Portland, Ore. March 17, 2021 2:10 p.m.

County commissioners argue that tear gas should not be used around children or other vulnerable populations.

A letter from Multnomah County commissioners to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calls for significant limitations on the use of tear gas or other chemical munitions, arguing they should be “authorized only in very narrow circumstances.” And commissioners argue, tear gas should not be used around schools or in neighborhoods.

But if there’s one specific location that’s most on the minds of the Multnomah County board of commissioners in their letter to Mayorkas, it’s one building, where tear gas has been used repeatedly on protesters: the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland’s South Waterfront neighborhood.


The commissioners’ letter draws specific attention to that area because it is “directly adjacent to the K-8 Cottonwood School of Civics and Science, and in close proximity to an affordable housing complex that is home to many Veterans.”

Little orange flags poke up from the playground ground marking sites of potential contamination.

The Cottonwood School is located near the ICE Detention Center on the South Waterfront in Portland. The playground has been sampled for traces of tear gas, after parents voiced concerns over the chemical munitions use during numerous demonstrations at the nearby ICE building.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB


“Physical debris and residual toxic chemicals have been found on the schoolyard — including CS gas residue and canisters — and there is significant concern over the impact that these weapons may have on the health of young children, teachers, and the surrounding neighborhood,” the letter points out.

As OPB has previously reported, the Cottonwood School community has raised concerns for some time about the use of chemical agents right next door to where students attend classes.

Related: Portland school worries law enforcement tear gas has soiled playground

In addition to stopping the use of tear gas at the ICE facility, the Multnomah County officials’ letter presses DHS to share information with the Cottonwood School about what munitions have been used and to help in testing and cleaning up any environmental damage caused by past use of the gas.

But the commissioners’ letter also goes beyond the specific ICE facility and pushes for a broader policy change. It invokes the Geneva Convention’s tear gas ban and advocacy from members of Oregon’s congressional delegation to call for a broader prohibition against the use of chemical munitions.

“As County Commissioners, we respectfully request that you use your authority to enact reasonable measures to prohibit the use of chemical weapons generally, and ban them outright in proximity to schools, residential neighborhoods, and other locations near vulnerable populations,” the letter said.