ICE Breaker

Recent rumors of local ICE activity cause anxiety in the immigrant community

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s increasingly harsh rhetoric surrounding undocumented immigration in the U.S., rumors have been circulating on social media that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been increasing arrests and conducting raids around Eugene.

Driven by Trump’s recent statements regarding planned immigration sweeps targeting “millions” of immigrants, these rumors have immigration advocates and allies on edge. But, while the immigration issue is increasingly tense, looking at ICE’s capabilities and statewide and regional activities shows no evidence of ICE raids here beyond its normal operations.

Although ICE does have an office in the old federal building downtown, data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which tracks deportation statistics, shows that 63 undocumented immigrants were processed through Eugene in 2015, the most recent year available.

According to the ICE website, the facility is designed to hold arrestees no longer than 16 hours before either being released or transferred to another location.

Called an “Enforcement and Removal Operations” center, Eugene’s downtown facility is a bare-bones operation consisting of no more than four or five officers, according to Abigail Molina, a local immigration attorney.

Molina says that the nature of her work means she often interacts directly with local ICE officials and, by her estimation, the branch is too understaffed to undertake the kinds of actions the recent rumors suggest.

“They don’t conduct raids here,” she says. “They don’t have the time or the resources.”

Molina adds that because of their lack of resources, local ICE officers more than likely focus their efforts on the backlog of individuals who have existing removal orders. 

A case in point is Eliberio Diaz, a father of four children who was deported May 8 after missing a hearing. His wife, Paula Diaz, called attention to his deportation at a July 2 protest of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Analysis of arrest and deportation statistics show that ICE is active in Oregon and Lane County, but Eugene Weekly found no indication that ICE is using raids to apprehend undocumented immigrants.

“ICE only conducts targeted enforcement and does not conduct any type of indiscriminate raids or sweeps that target aliens indiscriminately,” ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman says in an email.

Roman adds, “Nationally, approximately 90 percent of all persons arrested by ICE during [2018] either had a criminal conviction, a pending criminal charge or were already subject to a removal order issued by a federal immigration judge.”

Up-to-date information is scarce, and Roman declined to disclose updated figures, including how many people have been detained in the region through 2018 and 2019, how many of those people originated in Oregon and specifically Eugene, and how many are currently in custody awaiting removal. 

Information available at ICE’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) online library does, however, show a record of past ICE activity.

The lone remaining longterm adult immigrant detention facility in Oregon, the Northern Oregon Correctional Facility (NORCOR) in The Dalles, holds on average about five immigrants on any given day, according to a 2016 facilities list from ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Custody Management Division.

Morrison Child and Family Services also operates two migrant youth detention centers in Portland, which hold approximately 70 children, mostly teenagers.

In inspection reports reviewed by EW, the NORCOR facility was last graded as “acceptable,” out of a range of “at-risk,” “deficient,” “acceptable,” “good” and “superior.” The report on NORCOR noted that during the inspection period there were two fights and one sexual assault, all between detainees.

Additionally, the report noted that an Iraqi detainee went on a six-day hunger strike, which he ended voluntarily.

Meanwhile the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, typically holds somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 people being processed for deportation. It’s unclear how many of those detained in Tacoma are from Oregon.

In her written responses to EW’s questions, Roman says the Eugene ERO office transports at least some detainees directly to Tacoma.

Oregon is part of what ICE calls the Seattle “area of responsibility” (AOR), which also includes all of Washington and Alaska. Figures for the Seattle AOR show that in 2018, 4,089 undocumented immigrants were removed from the region.

A total of 256,085 people were removed from all AORs nationwide that year.

Fear of raids may also be heightened locally due to coverage of overflowing migrant camps at the southern border, giving the impression that ICE is aggressively going after undocumented immigrants everywhere.

When asked directly if ICE has increased operations in Eugene, Roman responded, “ICE’s enforcement priorities have shifted since the previous administration. ICE no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

Roman also writes, “ICE prioritizes its enforcement on individuals who pose the greatest threat to national security, public safety and border security.” 

Roman did not give any insight into how ICE determines who poses the greatest threat. ν

At 7 pm Friday, July 12, Lights for Liberty, a national coalition of immigrant rights organizations, will hold a vigil starting at the Wayne Morse Federal Courthouse, then march to the old federal building. 

If you or someone you know is concerned about being targeted by ICE, the Civil Liberties Defense Center and the Rural Organizing project have put together resources to help at The CLDC can be reached at 541-687-9180.