South Waterfront is cold on ICEs planned new facility.
  • South Waterfront is cold on ICE's planned new facility.
South Waterfront clearly needs development. After the city and urban renewal dollars have sunk $93 million into developing the area, what we have to show for it are a very nice-looking tram and condo towers auctioning off units at cut rates. Of the eight operating retail spaces in the neighborhood, two are doggie daycares or dog spas.

But locals have packed city council this afternoon to protest the newest development planned for the area: an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility on SW Macadam that will include cells for detaining immigrants, planned next to a K-8 elementary school. Oh great, says the neighborhood association, a jail. The neighborhood association is appealing the building's permit on the grounds that it doesn't fit the use for the area.

The first thing to know about the building is it's not, technically, a jail. It's an office building ICE will lease including four detention cells and an eight-foot-tall security fence. ICE currently has these cells and its office spread between two locations in Portland, one at 511 SW Broadway and one in the Rose Quarter. The project tacks three extra stories onto an existing four-story building in South Waterfront, but ICE says it won't expand their staff, role, or number of holding cells in the city at all. Once people are processed in the center, they'll be sent to Multnomah County Jail, an ICE facility in Tacoma, or released.

Commissioner Nick Fish asked about these numbers specifically, "Will the majority of the people processed in this facility be people who have been convicted of a crime?" But for some reason, the ICE representative did not reply with the available numbers, instead saying that "some" of the people would have been convicted of a crime, but that some would have "just been picked up."

The kinds of people who will be interrogated in the building will likely not be hardened criminals but, studies of ICE arrests show, immigrants who were arrested for low level crimes like not paying MAX fare. Of the 148 people ICE booked into custody in Multnomah, Marion, and Clackamas Counties in the past two years, 73 were convicted of no crime, 45 were convicted of serious crimes like robbery or assault, and 30 were convicted of lesser property crimes or misdemeanors (the category that TriMet fare evasions fall under).

But this isn't about immigration
or questionable detentions, it's a classic NIMBY issue. Immigration detention center: Fine. Next door to a school in South Waterfront? Not okay.

Adorable Children Against ICE
  • Adorable Children Against ICE

With the number of people signed up to speak, it'll be at least an hour before council makes a decision on the issue. Updates below the cut.

One of the big sticking points with the facility is SW Charter School right next door—parents worry that their kids will be just a few steps from convicts at the detention center. If the school seems unsafe, South Waterfront will have a hard time attracting the kind of residents it's currently lacking: young people and children.

"It does not feel safe, our kids are at recess, they'll be out and about and I'm worried about what they might see," business owner and SW Charter School mom Krista Rodriguez told the council. "I feel like this was put ut there as an office and now it's like, we're just going to put a little detention center on the side. It feels like a bait and switch."

Much of the crowd here in the balcony of city council is little kids and, let me tell you, they are not coping well with the droning on of Powerpoint slides about the project. "I need to poooop!" whispers a young boy, loudly. Welcome to politics, kids.

Update 4:50pm—After nearly three hours of back and forth, city council is putting off a vote on approving or denying the facility's permit. They're looking to get some questions answered by ICE about specifically how long people would be held in the building and under what kind of security conditions.

"What I heard today is a lot of concern that the right questions haven't been asked, " summed up Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

That means public comment is still open! People have until 5pm on January 26th to submit their comments to the city auditor's office. Council will pick it back up again February 16th at 2pm.