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Controversial immigration facility heads to council

Wednesday hearing will focus on release of detainees

Portland's City Council considers Wednesday an appeal of the controversial proposal to open an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency office with a processing and detention center near the South Waterfront development area.

The federal government wants to relocate its ICE office into a building at 4310 S.W. Macadam Ave. The agency needs to move out of its facilities at 511 S.W. Broadway because it does not meet the federal government's current safety and security standards.

Many neighbors in the area oppose the plan because the office would include a processing center and four holding cells for people suspected of violating immigration laws and detained by the federal government. ICE officials say they will hold 10 to 15 detainees a day, none more than 12 hours or overnight.

A city hearings officer denied the ICE application to remodel and move into the building because some detainees would be released directly from it, posing a potential threat to area residents and students at a nearby school. ICE estimates three or more detainees could be released from the building each week.

The building's owners have appealed the ruling to the council, which is scheduled to take it up at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Neighbors raised a number of objections about ICE moving into the building during the proceeding held before Hearings Officer Gregory Frank. He rejected all of them except the question of releasing detainees directly from the building was potentially unsafe.

In his ruling, Frank noted the council approved the construction of the Wapato Jail, it prohibited inmates from being processed there or released directly from it. The jail, which is owned by Multnomah County, is located in an industrial section of North Portland approximately 1.5 miles from the nearest home. It has never opened because of county budget problems.

'In City's Council's decision, it specifically noted that safety components of the applicant's proposal included: 'booking will occur downtown, not at this facility' and 'there will be no release of offenders at the corrections facility site,'' Franks noted in his ruling.

Despite that, Frank noted the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office are not opposing the application on safety grounds. He quoted an ICE officials as saying anyone suspected of committing a crime would be transferred to jail, and there was no evidence that any detainee released from the custody at the 511 S.W. Broadway Building has ever committed a crime in the nearby Pearl District.

The council's decision can be challenged before the state Land Use Board of Appeals and, from there, the Oregon Court of Appeals and Oregon Supreme Court.