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Oregon Prison Must Continue Allowing Access to Immigrant Detainees, Judge Rules

Bureau of Prisons
The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon.

A federal detention facility in Sheridan, Oregon, must continue to open its doors to attorneys representing dozens of immigrant detainees, a judge ruled today.

In a hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon granted a request to impose a preliminary injunction on prison officials in Sheridan. The order requires them to grant access to immigration attorneys with the Portland-based Innovation Law Lab for six hours a day, seven days a week.

Simon’s ruling Monday came over the objections of a government attorney, and it's just the latest in an ongoing push-and-pull between Oregon immigration lawyers and federal officials over the situation in Sheridan.

More than 120 immigrant detainees were sent to the prison in late May, following new hard line immigration policies from the Trump administration. Immigration attorneys were prevented from seeing the men for weeks until winning a restraining order in June barring prison officials from keeping lawyers out.

That restraining order expired Monday and applied to the entire facility in Sheridan. The injunction Simon ordered is more narrow, applying to only 80 men being represented by the Innovation Law Lab.

“What the government told us today was that they would shut down access” if the injunction weren’t granted, Innovation Law Lab Executive Director Stephen Manning said after the hearing. “How do you represent someone if you can’t speak with someone?”

Monday’s hearing largely revolved around legal technicalities, but did reveal one significant detail. According to attorney Nadia Dahab, who represents the plaintiffs, 74 of the Innovation Law Lab's clients have had interviews with asylum officials, in which they claimed they have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home countries. In every case, the detainees received a positive determination, meaning they can argue for asylum in the U.S.

“Having won their fear claims, they are now in a place where they can be released from custody,” Manning said.

Simon said Monday he would hold hearings every two weeks, to assess whether the injunction needs to be altered.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.