Miguel was supporting a wife and five kids in southern Oregon prior to his recent arrest by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). His youngest daughter was just learning to walk. His small business was thriving. I met with him last week at the Northern Oregon Regional Correction Center (NORCOR) in The Dalles. His story is like many of the immigrants detained every day with the support of our tax dollars from the Hood River County budget.
Miguel has been locked up at NORCOR for more than six months. He’s lived in the U.S. since he was a toddler. He was arrested by ICE when he went in to check on the status of his immigration case. His wife can no longer afford the cost of their housing and she and their kids have had to move in with a relative. At NORCOR, Miguel must pay 25 cents per minute to talk with his family by phone. Day by day, through no fault of their own, the lives of Miguel and his wife and children are falling apart.
The immigrants I and other clergy visit at NORCOR are in civil immigration proceedings. They are not in criminal proceedings like those NORCOR was designed to jail on a short term basis. Immigrants at NORCOR are held indefinitely. They are not allowed family visits. Clergy and attorneys are the only face-to-face visits these men are allowed — and those are through a thick glass panel in a windowless cubicle.
As I leave NORCOR, I feel anger and frustration. The waste is palpable: Waste of sacred human lives, waste of unnecessary hardship on fragmented families and communities, and an unconscionable waste of financial resources.
I know that the tax dollars that Hood River County allocates to NORCOR contribute to that waste. As our county works diligently to develop new sources of income to a rapidly catastrophic budget situation, it is rarely mentioned that we spend large amounts of money cooperating with ICE.
ICE reimburses NORCOR approximately $80 per night per immigrant detainee. However, actual expenses are closer to $130. That’s an additional $50 per night, per immigrant. On average, NORCOR confines up to 30 immigrant detainees daily and that means the counties that fund NORCOR pay up to $548,000 annually to pay for ICE detention costs.
The General Fund of the Hood River County budget includes necessary funding for our sheriff and other corrections expenses. But what most of us fail to see is that, in addition to these costs, a whopping 12 percent of our entire County General Fund is spent on NORCOR. A significant percentage of this $1.56 million is used to do the work of ICE. Is this how we want our tax dollars spent?
We must insist that our county stop funding the detention of people like Miguel and the dozens of other immigrants locked behind bars at our jail. We must insist that responsible use of our county dollars means building healthier and safer neighborhoods and a stronger economy. We must insist that our county leaders spend funds to build rather than destroy the lives of our immigrant neighbors. Doing the work of ICE will never do that.