Organizing in Response to NORCOR Court Ruling

Over the last two years, immigrants and refugees detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inside the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility (NORCOR) and communities in the Gorge have been organizing to challenge the regional jail’s collaborative relationship with ICE. In addition, several community members in Wasco County and their attorneys sued NORCOR for violation of ORS 181.A820, often referred to as Oregon’s sanctuary law. This is the very law that was overwhelmingly affirmed by Oregon voters in November. Earlier today, a Wasco County judge issued a final ruling on the NORCOR lawsuit. The results are mixed, with some disappointing decisions and several opportunities to build from as we organize to get ICE out of our communities.


As Innovation Law Lab’s press statement below describes, the court found that NORCOR violated state law by notifying ICE when individuals were released from jail and for holding them beyond their release dates at ICE’s request. The court also found that NORCOR’s current contract with ICE is not prohibited under the current wording of our Oregon sanctuary law. It is likely that one or all of the decisions will be appealed. Though we suffered a loss on the ICE contract today, there are several decisions that give us reason to celebrate and build upon our organizing as we strengthen our communities.


Since May 2017, immigrants and refugees detained at NORCOR have organized two hunger strikes to demand an end to the ICE contract at NORCOR and for humane conditions, like access to good food, outdoor exercise, timely medical care, and visits with family. In support of the powerful demands coming from organizers inside NORCOR, leaders in the Gorge and across rural Oregon have held marches and rallies, met with county commissioners, and organized community events to demand that their local public institution play no role in detaining and deporting people.


As a new board at NORCOR is seated this month, organizers both inside and outside the jail will continue to call upon decision-makers to do what is just and right. Today’s ruling is not the end of the fight; the incredible community organizing and public pressure will continue until we see an end to the ICE contract at NORCOR and ICE out of all of our communities.


ROP will continue to keep you updated as the organizing and legal strategies unfold and we’ll share opportunities to join the organizing efforts to end the ICE contract at NORCOR. Today, we ask you to share this message with your human dignity group, friends, family, and community. Let’s start conversations on how we can enforce the victories in today’s ruling in our communities – making sure local jails know that they will be held accountable if they notify ICE when individuals are released or if they hold them for ICE beyond their release dates. In addition, consider making a contribution to the NORCOR phone fund so those who are detained at NORCOR can make calls to lawyers and family members while held at the jail.


In solidarity,

Cara, Hannah, Cathy, Rindy and the ROP Team


Judge rules NORCOR violated Oregon law

Court finds that NORCOR assisted ICE in a manner that violates ORS 181A.820; finds detention contract not prohibited 



February 8, 2019



Erin M. Pettigrew, Innovation Law Lab,, 971-612-0540

Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, Innovation Law Lab,, 971-801-6047


The Dalles, Oregon – In a decision issued today, Judge John Wolf of Wasco County determined that two of Northern Oregon Regional Corrections’ (NORCOR) immigration enforcement practices are illegal under Oregon’s disentanglement law, ORS 181A.820, often referred to as Oregon’s sanctuary statute and the first law of its kind in the nation.


First, the court took issue with NORCOR’s practices of notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when a person is scheduled to be released from the local jail. The court determined that “[t]he record in this case establishes no purpose for the release notifications except for the purpose of detecting and apprehending persons in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.”


The court went on to conclude that the jail’s allegedly discontinued practice of holding individuals beyond their release date for ICE is likewise illegal under state law. The court reasoned, “re-seizure or subsequent seizure occurs when an inmate remains in jail after the original basis for incarceration ceases to exist.” Therefore, NORCOR must release the individual as required under state law, and to do otherwise violates ORS 181A.820, said Judge Wolf.


The trial court held, however, that NORCOR’s contract with ICE to “accept and provide for secure custody” of persons detained for federal immigration enforcement does not violate ORS 181A.820, nor does its policy of notifying ICE of the presence of a foreign-born person upon booking on state or local charges. With respect to the contract, the court determined that the term “apprehend” in the statute “is not commonly understood to mean holding someone in jail or prison.” The court went on to conclude that notifying ICE of the presence of foreign-born persons in the jail did not violate Oregon law because those persons may have violated other state laws and because there is an exception to the statute for exchanges of information to verify immigration status.


Though NORCOR argued the Plaintiffs lacked standing, the trial court disagreed, ruling that the Plaintiffs had standing to bring suit because they had shown negative tax consequences as a result of NORCOR’s relationships with ICE.


“We are pleased with the Court’s decision that NORCOR is violating Oregon law in some respects, but disappointed by the court’s decision with respect to the ICE contract,” said Erin M. Pettigrew of Innovation Law Lab, one of the attorneys representing the Plaintiffs. “As Judge Wolf observed at the hearing, it is likely that some or all of his rulings will be appealed, as they involve issues of broad importance to Oregonians.”


Read the decision here.

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