A group of at least 20 undocumented immigrants being held by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in Oregon have gone on a hunger strike to protest the conditions at their detention facility—but the man overseeing the facility is literally laughing off their protest.
The strike, which began Wednesday, marks the second time this year that detainees at ICE’s Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility have fasted to protest what they say are abysmal conditions. According to KGW.com, the detainees are asking for better food, cheaper items for sale in the commissary, including feminine hygiene products, and cheaper phone calls—a particular concern at NORCOR, thanks to its remote location and strict visitation policy.
“I have heard the stories of vulnerable people living under conditions that are intolerable,” John Boonstra, a member of the Gorge ICE Resistance activist network, said in a statement to Willamette Week. “Hunger strikes come at great risk to people who are already isolated for indeterminate amounts of time.”
“The conditions [in NORCOR] need more attention,” one of the striking detainees reportedly told Gorge ICE Resistance volunteers. “We are not prisoners, we are immigrants with ICE problems.”
Upon hearing news of the impending strike on Wednesday afternoon, officials shrugged off concerns.
“Don’t print that there’s a hunger strike,” NORCOR administrator Bryan Brandenburg told the Portland Mercury. “They have to miss five meals and not be eating commissary” for their actions to officially qualify as such. According to the Mercury, Brandenburg was laughing when he made the statement.
NORCOR has long been at the center of the state’s immigration and incarceration debates. Among other things, Oregon has a statewide sanctuary policy, making the existence of an immigration jail highly controversial. Earlier this summer, the Oregon Democratic Party passed a resolution demanding statewide oversight of the facility and others like it, specifically citing NORCOR’s “violation of basic principles of human rights.”
A rally in support of the striking detainees is scheduled outside the NORCOR jail for Saturday, November 5.