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Portland City Officials Won't Crack Down on ICE Fence, After All

Dirk VanderHart
The City of Portland's Bureau of Development Services issued a correction notice to ICE on Monday, after inspecting the fence. The structure was erected last week, following weeks of protest outside the Southwest Portland facility.

A tall fence separating protesters from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Southwest Portland doesn’t have proper permits and is blocking a public sidewalks.

But three days after a city code inspector issued a violation notice to ICE for the fence, it now appears City Hall is no longer interested in taking action. The city’s code enforcement and transportation bureaus both say they’re holding back on enforcing violations, in light of the volatile Occupy ICE PDX protest that has led to recent clashes between federal police and activists.

“Commissioner [Dan] Saltzman, in close coordination with the mayor and his colleagues in the building, has taken a hands-off approach to the situation as it currently stands down there,” said Matt Grumm, chief of staff to Saltzman, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Part of that decision, Grumm said, was due to the fact Saltzman feels “there are most likely many code violations happening down there,” between ICE and the adjacent encampment of dozens of tents.

The camp straddles a public walking and biking path, along with trolley tracks. The Willamette Shore Trolley service has curtailed its route due to the protest.

Also taking a hands-off approach: the Bureau of Development Services, which on Monday said ICE had not obtained proper permits last week when it erected a fence to keep out demonstrators. After it issued the warning, BDS said it would follow up with a letter to the building’s owner. Now it’s backing off.

“Since it appears that the fence is primarily located in the public right-of-way, this matter has been deferred to PBOT,” BDS spokesman Thomas Ngo said in a statement Wednesday.

The code enforcement bureau is controlled by City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who’s been a vocal opponent of ICE immigration policies and has cheered on the Occupy camp. But Eudaly’s office has said she did not order an inspector to assess the fence earlier this week. Another official said the inspector had “gone rogue” in handing out the violation.

In fact, Eudaly’s office sees value in ICE’s barrier. Chief of Staff Marshall Runkel told OPB on Monday that “the fence is providing some useful functions. It’s a dangerous situation down there.”

The volatility between protesters and Department of Homeland Security officers was showcased twice this week. On Monday, officers arrested several protestors in the camp. On Wednesday, they arrested eight demonstrators attempting to block a van from leaving the facility. A video showed officers deploying less-lethal weapons at short range.

The decision not to enforce the fence violation reduces the likelihood that officials will intercede in ICE’s activity in the facility — even as protesters call for the agency to be evicted. Runkel said Monday that Eudaly had researched whether a permit that allows ICE to use the facility had been violated, and concluded the city had no leverage.

The protest has sat outside of ICE’s South Waterfront facility since June 17, a response to new hardline immigration policies by the Trump administration. The quick growth of the camp spurred federal officials to temporarily cease activity at the building. It was reopened last week.

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.