Several men detained by federal immigration agents are staging a hunger strike at a jail in The Dalles, Oregon.
Immigrant rights advocates say the inmates were recently transferred from the federal government’s main Northwest immigration detention site in Tacoma, Washington.
The Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility — or NORCOR — serves Wasco, Gilliam, Hood River and Sherman counties. The jail also has a contract to handle detainees from Tacoma.
Advocates for the hunger strikers say five men are refusing to eat jail food and were transferred as punishment for a similar strike in Tacoma that at one point included several hundred people.
NORCOR administrator Bryan Brandenburg acknowledged immigration detainees have made some complaints about mistreatment at the jail, but said they're being treated humanely.
He said three inmates are striking — and that he can’t force them to eat.
“We monitor them, we offer them food, we make sure they’re seen by medical on a daily basis, and that they’re having fluid intake, which they are,” he said. "Really, until there's some sort of medical issue that arises as a result, we continue with that process. If we need we can take them to a doctor."
Advocates say the use of NORCOR violates an Oregon law limiting local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
But Brandenberg says jail officials and the four county sheriff's departments that use the facility follow state law in dealing with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
"When they're booked in here, we gather information, and if they don't have a country of origin listed, then there's certain documents or info that we pass along to ICE," he said. "But if a person bails out or is released by the court, they're allowed to leave. We don't hold them. ICE may call and say, 'Hey, hold this guy.' We don't do that. We release them."
NORCOR has 212 beds and has contracted to take federal prisoners, including immigration detainees, since close to its opening in 1999, Brandenburg said.
Right now, the jail is housing eight or nine immigration detainees, he said.