THE DALLES, Ore. -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees being held at the NORCOR jail in The Dalles ended a four-day hunger strike after the detainees said ICE officials promised better conditions at the jail.
It was the second time detainees went on hunger strike at the county jail this year.
The detainees went on strike the evening of Oct. 31, the ACLU of Oregon and the local activist group called Gorge ICE Resistance confirmed. The strike ended on Nov. 4.
At least 20 detainees participated in the strike to protest what they said are inhumane conditions, according to a Gorge ICE Resistance press release.
Detainees said no personal visits are allowed at the jail and the remote location of NORCOR isolates them from family. Detainees also asked for better food, warmer clothing, cheaper commissary items including toiletries, feminine hygiene products and food items, access to the outdoors, cheaper phone calls and more books in the library.
NORCOR does not allow in-person visits; instead, it utilizes the Telmate system, which offers video calls, phone calls and emails for a fee. The jail routinely offers recreation time in a concrete recreation room with an open ceiling in lieu of access to the outdoors.
Jail administrator Bryan Brandenburg said detainees and inmates are allowed a one-hour free video call each week.
The ACLU of Oregon said ICE officials met with detainees on Saturday and promised three hours of free video calls each month, milk five days a week instead of one, hot breakfast on weekends, more library books including Spanish-language options, access to outdoor space, and warm underclothes and shoes instead of just scrubs and sandals.
An ICE spokesperson said the federal agency listened to the detainees' requests, but would neither confirm nor deny that changes were made.
"ICE officials met with the detainees to listen to their concerns. Their concerns will be carefully reviewed for appropriate follow-up," said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for ICE.
ICE uses NORCOR, a jail owned and operated by four counties in Eastern Oregon, to hold detainees. NORCOR is owned and run by Wasco, Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam counties.
ICE pays NORCOR $80 a day per detainee. On average, the jail has about 20 detainees at a time at the facility, Brandenburg said.
“The conditions [in NORCOR] need more attention. We are not prisoners, we are immigrants with ICE problems," a striker told Gorge ICE Resistance volunteers during the strike.
Brandenburg denies the ICE detainees' claims of inhumane conditions and says the jail meets all standards for detainees set by ICE. He said the jail is not currently housing any female detainees who would need feminine hygiene products.
Brandenburg said the jail also provides meals that contain at least 2,650 calories a day.
"Our menu was developed by a licensed certified dietitian that meets the standards necessary for a 25-year-old active male," he said.
Brandenburg said neither NORCOR nor ICE consider the detainee's actions a hunger strike until they have missed at least nine consecutive meals or go without eating for at least 72 hours.
Detainees went on a six-day hunger strike in May amid complaints of poor conditions, including inadequate food, no access to microwaves, and no access to jobs or programs that other jail inmates have access to, according to the ACLU of Oregon.
According to the ACLU, the strike ended when some of the detainee's demands were met.
Brandenburg said that NORCOR was already in the process of installing microwaves. He said the strike alerted him to the fact that detainees were being denied access to jobs and programs, but he would have made the change without the strike. Since May, several ICE detainees have participated in programs available to other inmates and worked at the jail. Inmates and detainees who work make $5 a week, which they can use for commissary items.
NORCOR and Wasco County are also currently embroiled in a lawsuit related to holding ICE detainees. Four residents of Wasco County argue the taxpayer-funded facility is violating Oregon's sanctuary state law. The county and NORCOR say the practice is legal.
While the ACLU of Oregon argues that some of NORCOR's detainees have no criminal charges and are only held for immigration issues, NORCOR maintains the ICE detainees it holds are all facing criminal charges.
"They are criminals who are here illegally and we are just housing them for ICE," Brandenburg said.
NORCOR is one of two jails in Oregon used by ICE to hold detainees. Josephine County Jail in Grants Pass also holds detainees for the federal agency.