PORTLAND, Ore. — A jail in north-central Oregon has been sued by four people who contend the facility is violating its state law by holding immigrants who are awaiting status hearings or deportation.
The four assert in a lawsuit filed Friday in northern Wasco County that they have paid and continue to pay property taxes used to build and operate the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility in the small city of The Dalles. They alleged the jail is breaking a unique Oregon law prohibiting state and local authorities from helping federal authorities enforce immigration laws.
Oregon created America’s first sanctuary state in 1987. In February, Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order that said all state agencies must follow the 1987 statute.
In addition to the jail, the suit names Wasco County. Its attorney, Kristen Campbell, said the county and the jail have complied with Oregon law.
The attorney who filed the lawsuit, David Henretty of the Oregon Law Center, declined comment and said the four plaintiffs had no immediate comment about the case.
The jail generally referred to as NORCOR opened as a regional jail for four rural counties. As with many other local jails, it has a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to provide beds for federal detainees.
The focus of the lawsuit is the immigrants overflowing to Wasco County from an U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma, Washington.
The relationship between the jail and the federal agency gained attention in May when several detainees went on a hunger strike that ended when they won access to a microwave oven and a radio.
Pro-immigrant activists from that dispute and the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit cite the 1987 Oregon law that prohibits the use of public “moneys, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.”
But Campbell, the county attorney, said NORCOR only takes inmates that have been charged with a crime beyond being immigrants in the country illegally.
A spokeswoman for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told The Associated Press in May that the jail appeared to be operating within the law because its resources are not being used to detect or arrest people.
According to the lawsuit, about 20 immigrants are incarcerated at the jail pending status or deportation hearings, and the jail plans to double that number “in the near future.” It seeks an injunction prohibiting the jail from housing such detainees.
No court hearings have been scheduled.
Jail administrator Bryan Brandenburg did not return a phone call seeking comment.