enforcement

Governor Kitzhabers actions generate letter of frustration

Stephen Smith of Portland was moved to "words" in a great letter to his Legislator.  Read his letter in our letters section.

Perhaps you'll be inspired to write a letter of your own, too!  If you don't know how to contact your Legislator click here.

Governor Kitzhaber attempts to preempt federal law

Read below a statement from the Department of Homeland Security outlining the documents a foreign national must have to enter the United States legally. In essence a non-citizen must have either a passport or a valid visa issued by a U.S. Consular official. There is one exception to the rule.

A visa and passport are not required of a Mexican national who is in possession of a Form DSP-150, B-1/B-2 Visa and Border Crossing Card, containing a machine-readable biometric identifier issued by the U.S.Department of State. Mexican citizens using the card may only travel 25 miles into the U.S.

A Mexican matricula consular card is not valid as proof that a person is legally in the U.S. In fact, if a Mexican matricula card is the best or only identification a person can present, that is tacit admission that the person is illegally in the U.S.

Governor Kitzhaber is attempting to preempt federal law by promoting acceptance of the matricula consular as identification for drivers. That policy amounts to aiding and abetting illegal immigration. Furthermore it puts the Oregon State Police in a difficult legal position and citizens in danger.

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U.S. Customs & Border Protection

Entering the U.S. - Documents required for Foreign Nationals (International Travelers)

What travel documents and identification are required for a foreign national to enter the U.S.?

Updated 02/06/2012 11:22 AM

 

A foreign national or alien entering the U.S. is generally required to present a passport and valid visa issued by a U.S. Consular Official, unless they are a citizen of a country eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, or are a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. or a citizen of Canada. The Visa Waiver Program allows foreign nationals from certain countries to be admitted to the U.S. under limited conditions and for a limited time without obtaining a visa. The foreign national must arrive on an approved carrier (if coming by air or sea), staying no more than 90 days, for pleasure/medical purposes/business, and be able to prove they are not inadmissible. The foreign national is still required to have a passport. To obtain a list of countries eligible for the VisaWaiver Program, please reference the Department of State Web site. Canadians coming as a Treaty Trader, classification E are required to have a visa to enter the U.S. as are Canadians coming to marry a U.S. citizen and reside in the U.S. (K1)

A visa and passport are not required of a Mexican national who is in possession of a Form DSP-150, B-1/B-2 Visa and Border Crossing Card, containing a machine-readable biometric identifier, issued by the Department of State and is applying for admission as a temporary visitor for business or pleasure from contiguous territory by land or sea. Mexican citizens using the Border Crossing Card may only travel 25 miles into the U.S. - except in the Nogales/Tucson area, where travel to Tucson is authorized.

Continuing students who are going to travel outside of the United States must see their foreign student advisor and obtain an endorsement from the DSO or RO. The endorsement will be made on page 3 of the SEVIS Form I-20 or page 1 of the DS-2019. When returning to the United States, a continuing student/exchange visitor must present a valid SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 with the DSO or RO signature showing that the student is active and in good standing with the school or program.

Visitors traveling to the U.S. are required to be in possession of passports that are valid for six months beyond the period of their intended stay in the U.S. For a list of countries exempt from the six month rule, see Six Month Club. (Six Month Club validity on your passport does not apply to U.S. Citizens returning to the United States.)

Senator Merkely holding 5 town halls in Eastern Oregon

OFIRP encourages members to attend Townhall meetings and ask questions. See below for suggested questions, if you don't have your own ideas.  Invite a friend or neighbor to join you.  Remember, Senator Merkley works for Oregon's citizens, but his Immigration-Reduction Report Card shows a D- grade.   

Ask Senator Merkley to explain why he isn't working for unemployed Oregonians.

Sherman County Town Hall
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
12:00 pm
Rufus Community Center
304 West 2nd
Rufus, OR 97050

Gilliam County Town Hall
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
2:30 pm
Arlington High School Gymnasium
1200 Main Street
Arlington, 97812

Morrow County Town Hall
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
5:30 pm
Ione School District
Cafeteria
445 Spring Street
Ione, OR 97843

Wallowa County Town Hall
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
2:00 pm
South Fork Grange
Hwy 82 (Center of Lostine)
Lostine, OR 97857

Wheeler County Town Hall
Thursday, May 31, 2012
12:00 pm
Wheeler County Family Services Building
401 Fourth Street
Fossil, OR 97830

Below are a few examples of questions you could ask Senator Merkley:

Senator Merkley, mandatory E-Verify could get millions of Americans back to work and has support from people in every party. Why have you not worked with fellow Oregonian Representative DeFazio to get this mandate passed?

Senator Merkley, only illegal aliens and the big businesses that hire them are against E-Verify. 81% of Democrats support E-Verify. So why are you refusing to support this program? Who are you trying to protect?

Senator Merkley, there are 20 million Americans who are unemployed, jobless, or underemployed. If you were on the side of the American worker, you would support E-Verify. It could open up 7 million jobs, more than any bill being discussed in Congress right now! Will you please support mandatory E-Verify?

Vancouver man arrested in international drug investigation

A 31-year-old Vancouver man has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in an international synthetic marijuana trafficking conspiracy, according to the Oregon district of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ryan A. Scott, 31, of Vancouver pleaded not guilty May 16 in federal court in Oregon to multiple charges revolving around a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute synthetic marijuana. He was released on conditions pending trial, according to a justice department news release.

Scott was one of four people arrested in connection with a trafficking investigation first launched in early 2011 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Lead defendant Alexander Dimov, 33, of Bulgaria was arrested May 15 on the island of Molokai in Hawaii and was detained for transport to Oregon.

“With these arrests, HSI has halted a multi-million dollar business that we believe was a threat to public health and safety,” said Brad Bench, acting special agent at HSI Seattle, in a statement.

The suspects allegedly conspired to manufacture and distribute synthetic marijuana with unsafe chemicals banned by DEA, mixing them with herb extracts and marketing them as “incense” online with dozens of domain names, including k2incense.org. A well-known synthetic marijuana product was called Spice.

Federal agents used search warrants May 15 to seize hundreds of pounds of dried plant materials, packaging equipment and chemicals found in the defendants’ residences and a warehouse in Vancouver.

“Buying incense to put in marijuana pipes is like playing Russian roulette because the consumer has no idea what chemicals in are in the base plant material,” said Commander Mike Cooke of the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force. “You have no way to tell if there is a banned illegal substance in it. Incense isn’t supposed to have banned ingredients, but the consumer doesn’t have a way to know that.”

Side effects of the banned chemicals can include rapid heartbeat, hallucinations and psychotic state, Cooke said.

“It’s not uncommon for people to be transported to the ER with Spice,” he said.

The defendants’ trial is set for July 10 in U.S. District Court.

NOTE:  On May 15, 2012, law enforcement officers from local and federal agencies and led by ICE arrested lead defendant Alexander Dimov, 33, on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. Dimov, a Bulgarian national currently in overstay status, appeared in federal court in Honolulu and was detained for transport to Oregon.

 

Supreme Court: Having legal-resident parents doesn't prevent deportation of adult children

The Supreme Court decided unanimously today that the immigration status of parents can't help their adult-aged, illegal-alien children convicted of a crime. In the case Holder v. Martinez, the Court overturned a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled that Carlos Martinez Gutierrez, who had been ordered deported, couldn't use his father's status as a lawful permanent resident to stay in the country.

Pres. Obama appointee, Justice Elena Kagan wrote the unanimous decision. She wrote:

The board has required each alien seeking cancellation of removal to satisfy §1229b(a)'s requirements on his own, without counting a parent's years of continuous residence or LPR status. That position prevails if it is a reasonable construction of the statute, whether or not it is the only possible interpretation or even the one a court might think best. We think the BIA's view on imputation meets that standard, and so need not decide if the statute permits any other construction.

Carlos Martinez Gutierrez was caught smuggling illegal aliens across the border and was ordered deported.

The Supreme Court combined the Gutierrez case with another case in handing down its decision. Damien Antonio Sawyers was convicted on a drug offense and ordered deported despite being given legal status seven years prior to his arrest. His mother had legally entered the U.S. six years before he did.

To read the Supreme Courts full decision, click here.

Fifteen arrested in multi-agency drug sweep

Approximately 90 city, state and federal police officers swarmed across the Rogue Valley Thursday in one of the largest methamphetamine busts in recent history.

Fifteen people were lodged in the Jackson County Jail on felony drug charges as part of Operation Clear Green, which focused on a group responsible for selling pounds of meth per week, Medford police Lt. Brett Johnson said.

A yearlong investigation into the group turned up enough evidence for eight search warrants served in Medford, Eagle Point, White City and Central Point on Thursday, Johnson said.

"We've been watching this organization closely since we first learned about them last year," Johnson said.

The case began last summer when Jackson County sheriff's deputies raided a large outdoor marijuana garden. A thousand plants were pulled from the garden by the Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication (SOMMER) team.

SOMMER then shared their findings with the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement (MADGE) team during a briefing. The teams found that many of the same suspects appeared in two separate drug investigations headed by both agencies, Johnson said.

Over the past year, SOMMER and MADGE learned that a large group of suspects were working together to move meth throughout the county.

The agencies brought in officers from the Talent, Ashland, Central Point, Phoenix, Oregon State Police, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, and several federal agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to serve warrants at eight locations tied to the drug traffickers Thursday morning.

The drug houses were located on McLoughlin Drive in Central Point, Yankee Creek Road in Eagle Point and Vilas Road in Medford.

The warrants turned up 3 pounds of methamphetamine, marijuana plants, an ounce of heroin, a small amount of cocaine, 1 pound of dried marijuana, three handguns, two rifles and $30,000 in cash, believed to be proceeds from drug sales.

Among those arrested were:

- Benardo Parra-Chavez, 28, of Central Point, was arrested on eight counts of delivery of methamphetamine and eight counts of manufacture of methamphetamine. He was lodged in jail on $4 million bail [Illegal Alien].

- Stephanie Huff, 23, of Medford, was charged with delivery of methamphetamine, manufacture of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine and first-degree child neglect. She was lodged in jail on $530,000 bail.

- Juan Garcia-Ledezma, 28, of Medford, was charged with five counts of delivery of methamphetamine and five counts of possession of methamphetamine. He was lodged on $2,550,000 bail [Illegal Alien].

- Hugo Flores-Galvan, 25, of Medford was charged with delivery, possession, manufacture of methamphetamine and marijuana. He was lodged in jail on more than $1 million bail [Illegal Alien].

- Antonio Alonzo-Gomez, 43, of Medford, was charged with three counts each of delivery, manufacture and possession of methamphetamine. He was lodged on more than $1 million bail.

- Hector Saldana-Madrigal, 38, of White City, was charged with delivery and possession of methamphetamine. He was lodged on $510,000 bail [Illegal Alien].

- Victor Zaragosa-Infante, 53, of Medford, was charged with two counts each of delivery and possession of methamphetamine. He was lodged on more than $1 million bail.

- Jose Zamora-Tovar, 48, of White City, was charged with delivery, manufacture and possession of methamphetamine. He was lodged on $60,000 bail [Illegal Alien].

- Julie Nichole Parke, 33, of Eagle Point, was charged with possession of methamphetamine. She was lodged on $10,000 bail.

- Bernie George Helms, 21, no known address, was charged with a probation violation. He was lodged on $5,000 bail.

- Jeffrey Baltazar, 35, Victor Solis-Guzman, 24 and Alberto Salcedo-Jimenez, 28, all of Medford, were cited and released for possession of methamphetamine.

In addition, two juveniles were arrested on probation violations and lodged at the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center in Medford.

Teen who caused flight ruckus back to face charges for Ashland incident

A19-year-old Saudi Arabian who allegedly rammed two police cars in February, then was arrested for causing a disturbance on a plane in Portland two days later, is back in Jackson County to face local charges after pleading guilty to the federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.

Yazeed Mohammed Abunayyan pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, where District Judge Marco Hernandez sentenced Abunayyan to time served and ordered him to pay a $100 fine.

Jail records in Multnomah and Jackson counties indicate Abunayyan was released in Portland Friday morning and transported back to Jackson County.

He will face multiple charges of criminal mischief, driving while intoxicated and reckless endangerment stemming from the Feb. 19 incident in Ashland.

Abunayyan, who family members say suffers from schizophrenia and hadn't been taking his medication for weeks before he was arrested, led Ashland police on a low-speed chase before ramming two police cars, authorities said. After his arrest, he posted bail and signed an agreement that he would remain in the state until his next court appearance.

But on Feb. 21, Abunayyan boarded a Continental Airlines flight in Portland bound for Houston. It was forced to return to the Portland International Airport 30 minutes later after Abunayyan caused a disturbance when a flight attendant asked him to extinguish an electronic cigarette.

Court records said he yelled obscenities, tried to hit two passengers and mentioned Osama bin Laden before he was subdued.

Fahad Alsubaie, 21, a Saudi Arabian international exchange student studying English at Southern Oregon University and Abunayyan's cousin, accompanied Abunayyan on the flight.

Alsubaie said he was escorting his cousin "to keep an eye on him." The pair planned to head back to Saudi Arabia to see Abunayyan's mother, who was very ill.

Alsubaie said he spoke with Abunayyan about a week ago when the latter was incarcerated in Portland.

"He told me he was doing OK," said Alsubaie, who hoped to arrange a visit with his cousin in the Jackson County Jail. Now that Abunayyan is back in Jackson County, "I can't say if he is good or bad now," Alsubaie said.

A Jackson County grand jury on Feb. 28 indicted Abunayyan on 14 charges, including one count of attempting to elude, two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, three counts of second-degree criminal mischief, failure to perform the duties of a driver when property is damaged, driving under the influence of intoxicants, five counts of recklessly endangering another person, and contempt of court for violating his bail agreement.

Another count of reckless endangerment and a charge of being an illegal alien have been added since then.

Abunayyan's bail is set at $4,000, but because of his illegal alien charge, if he were to post bail, he wouldn't leave Jackson County Jail unless it was in the hands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, a jail official said.

Jackson County Deputy District Attorney David Hoppe said Abunayyan's case could be handled quickly.

"We're going to try to plead him out early next week," Hoppe said.
 

OFIR meeting, this Saturday, May 12 at 2:00pm

Alert date: 
2012-05-07
Alert body: 

If you have always wondered what is really happening on our southern border, please join OFIR this Saturday, May 12 at 2:00pm for an in-depth, behind the scenes, where tourists are not allowed tour.  OFIR President Cynthia Kendoll will share her experiences in a photographic journey to places rarely seen by the public.  You won't want to miss this one.  Invite a friend, reach beyond the propaganda and learn what Arizona is dealing with on a daily basis.

One year ago President O'bama declared our borders "mostly secure".  Join us and decide for yourself if you agree.

Saturday, May 12, 2012 - 2 pm

In Salem, at the Best Western Mill Creek Inn,

3125 Ryan Dr SE, just west of I-5 Exit 253, across from Costco.

 

 

Obama Administration Weakens Secure Communities

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) quietly announced last week that it is changing its Secure Communities program to better meet the Administration’s enforcement priorities. The announcement came in the form of a 19-page report ICE released to address a series of recommendations made by the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities "Task Force." (See ICE Response to the Task Force on Secure Communities Findings and Recommendations, Apr. 27, 2012)

While ICE’s responses to the recommendations varied, the agency made a significant policy shift by agreeing with the Task Force recommendation that it should refrain from enforcing the law against illegal aliens apprehended for "minor traffic offenses." (See ICE Response at p. 13) As a result, ICE announced that when Secure Communities identifies illegal aliens pursuant to a traffic offense, ICE will no longer ask the local jails to detain the illegal aliens so that ICE may begin deportation proceedings. ICE characterized its policy shift as follows: "For individuals arrested solely for minor traffic offenses, who have not previously been convicted of other crimes and do not fall within any other ICE priority category, ICE will only consider making a detainer operative upon conviction of the minor criminal traffic offense." (Id. at 14)

Even more disturbing, ICE’s response appears to encourage local agencies not to submit fingerprints to the FBI or DHS for individuals arrested for "minor offenses." ICE states: "It should be noted that states can choose not to submit to the federal government the fingerprints for individuals arrested for minor offenses. In states that do not fingerprint for minor offenses (or that fingerprint for state use but do not submit those fingerprints to the FBI) aliens cannot be identified through Secure Communities because they do not become part of the federal information sharing process in the first place." (Id.) Not only does this directly provide sanctuary cities a way to circumvent the program, but it belies previous statements by the Administration that the program is not optional. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Aug. 8, 2011)

Moreover, despite claims of limited resources, ICE also announced it plans to take action against jurisdictions with arrest rates the agency deems too high. According to the report, ICE and the DHS division of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties have "retained a leading statistician" to examine data for each jurisdiction where Secure Communities is activated and to look for indications of racial profiling. "Statistical outliers," the response reads, "will be subject to an in-depth analysis and DHS and ICE will take appropriate steps to resolve any issues." (See ICE Response at p. 15)

ICE’s announcement that it will limit the scope of Secure Communities is particularly striking because Secure Communities is virtually the only immigration enforcement program the Obama Administration has been promoting. For this reason, the policy change is an unmistakable indication that the Obama Administration has decided to cede even more ground to the open borders, pro-amnesty lobby.

Mexican ID Cards Now Serve as Valid ID in Oregon

Last Tuesday, the Governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber (D), announced that state and local officers will begin accepting Matricula Consular ID cards issued by the Mexican government as proof of identity for illegal aliens during traffic and other stops. (Associated Press, May 2, 2012)

Four years ago, Oregon toughened its driver’s license policies to prevent illegal aliens from receiving and renewing licenses, but now the state is backing down. (The Oregonian, June 29, 2008) Governor Kitzhaber, glossing over the fact that illegal aliens are violating federal immigration law and state laws by driving unlicensed, claimed that police no longer have an accurate way of identifying illegal aliens during traffic stops. (See Gov. Kitzhaber Letter, May 1, 2012; see also Associated Press, May 2, 2012)

Mexican Matricula Consular cards are highly susceptible to fraud. The Mexican government issues them to Mexican nationals residing outside of Mexico, regardless of their immigration status. (See FAIR Matricula Consular ID Summary, 2003) The Mexican government has no centralized database to coordinate the issuance of the ID cards, and multiple cards can easily be obtained under the same name and address, or with the same photograph, making it easy to establish false identities. (FBI Testimony, June 26, 2003).

Moreover, the FBI has long held that the cards are "not a reliable form of identification" and pose dangers to national security. (Id.) Having a Matricula Consular ID makes it easier for illegal aliens to move about the country, avoid triggering watch-lists, conceal identities from law enforcement, facilitate human trafficking and smuggling, and establish bank accounts to wire money outside the United States. (Id.; see also FAIR Matricula Consular ID Summary, 2003)

Nonetheless, Gov. Kitzhaber gave no indication of fear of such risks, instead expressing his goals for illegal aliens to "come out of the shadows and contribute to [Oregon’s] economic recovery," and hinting at his desire for illegal aliens to be allowed to own driver’s licenses again. (See Gov. Kitzhaber Letter, May 1, 2012)

New York Steps Closer to Private Tuition Fund for Illegal Aliens

The New York State Assembly approved legislation last Tuesday that would permit illegal alien college students to participate in the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). (El Diario, May 3, 2012)

Bill #A08689B, which establishes the New York DREAM Fund Commission, passed the Assembly by a vote of 163 to 3. (See A08689B Votes, May 1, 2012) The 12-member commission will raise private funds for college tuition scholarships for illegal alien minors. The DREAM fund will also make family tuition accounts available to anyone who provides a valid taxpayer identification number, which the IRS grants to illegal aliens because they do not have valid Social Security Numbers. (See A08689B, May 1, 2012; see also New York Daily News, May 1, 2012)

A DREAM Act report produced by the pro-amnesty New York Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) estimates the cost of funding illegal alien college tuition in New York to be around $17 million annually. (New York Fiscal Policy Institute Report, Mar. 9, 2012) New York’s taxpayers already subsidize illegal alien college students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates, and pays over $4.8 million annually in K-12 education for illegal aliens. (See FAIR Summary on States Permitting In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens, Sept. 2011; see also FAIR Illegal Immigration Cost Study, July 2010)

FPI’s report attempts to justify these costs by arguing that an increase in "the education levels of workers also increases their productivity…." (New York Fiscal Policy Institute Report, Mar. 9, 2012) However, the students who would benefit from this tuition funding are currently prohibited by law from being employed in the United States. (See INA § 274A(h)(3))

The New York bill, which is similar to legislation passed by Illinois last year, now awaits consideration by the New York State Senate. (See  A08689B, May 1, 2012; see also FAIR Legislative Update, May 9, 2011)

Justice Dept. Seeks to Intimidate Alabama School Districts

In its relentless quest to prevent state and local officials from enforcing immigration laws, the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week sent another letter of intimidation to the Alabama State Department of Education. In the letter, Civil Rights Division chief Thomas Perez drops a thinly veiled threat of litigation to persuade Alabama officials to back away from its immigration enforcement law, HB 56, and specifically the provision that requires schools to collect immigration data on its students.

To-date, Perez writes, the DOJ investigation shows that "H.B. 56 has had significant and measurable impacts on Alabama’s school children." These impacts, Perez states, have weighed most heavily on Hispanic and English language learner students.

Perez states these findings are based on local school data and anecdotal evidence. The local school data, which Perez says raises "significant concern," shows that between the start of the school year and February 2012, 13.4 percent of Alabama’s Hispanic schoolchildren withdrew from school. Remarkably, however, Perez appears unable to explain whether those school children re-enrolled in the same school district, re-enrolled in another Alabama school district, or left the state. He also does not specify what the normal withdrawal rate is in any given year to provide context.

Perez cites no other data given to him by the Alabama Department of Education to support his conclusions. Instead, he writes that anecdotal evidence backs up his claim that HB 56 is unlawfully impacting Hispanics residing in Alabama. Writing with deliberate vagueness, Perez states that "many" Hispanic students reported staying home from school or withdrawing out of fear and that "many students" conveyed that HB 56 made them "feel unwelcome in the schools they had attended for years." "Hispanic children," he adds, "reported increased anxiety and diminished concentration in school, deteriorating grades, and increased hostility, bullying, and intimidation."

This letter from the DOJ to the Alabama Department of Education is not the first. In November 2011, Perez sent a letter to Alabama demanding its schools provide data about student absenteeism since the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 7, 2011) At first, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange balked at the request for local school data, but later the state agreed to cooperate with the DOJ investigation. However, it appears that the local school data, which Alabama sent to the DOJ in early April, did not provide the DOJ with the evidence of discrimination it sought as the most recent letter focused almost entirely on anecdotal reports and recitations of existing federal law.

The timing of this last DOJ letter was also unmistakable. It was sent to Alabama officials the very week the state legislature was scheduled to debate and vote on changes to HB 56. As it turns out, however, the Alabama Senate postponed debate on the legislation to amend HB 56 (HB 658) to this week.

Welcome to Heroin City

"Jimmy," a drug dealer in his mid twenties, injects himself with heroin in the bathroom of a West Burnside Street tavern.
On my first attempt at buying heroin in Portland I was told to come back in an hour.
I'm a reasonably clean cut, 34-year-old white man with one wrist tattoo, no drug contacts; a photographer, not an addict.

Within five minutes at O'Bryant Square downtown, I had sidled up to a gaunt middle-aged man, and asked if he knew where I could find some "black" -- a street name for black tar heroin.  "The natives might be back in an hour," he said.  I'd come back in an hour.

Ten minutes later, I approached a young man on the sidewalk across the street from Pioneer Courthouse Square who told me he had just been ripped off to the tune of $15. I asked him for black. He said I should follow him around the corner. But then his girlfriend came up behind me, asking to see my track marks, accusing me of being a cop.


• Editor’s note: First-person narration by Christopher Onstott, story by Peter Korn
 

I had the impression that if she hadn't come by I would have had my black tar heroin, or at least a number.

That's the goal. Little pieces of paper with suppliers' phone numbers are treated like currency on the street. A dedicated addict will pay up to $100 to secure one, and always keeps two or three on hand.

Back to O'Bryant Square, where casually standing around with a group of street kids brought in offers of meth, crack cocaine and pot, but no heroin. Odd, since heroin use in Portland has skyrocketed in the last year.

There were 84 heroin overdose deaths in Multnomah County last year, up from 57 in 2009. A growing body of federal data show that in the span of a few years, Portland has become one of the nation's top cities for heroin use.

Portland is awash in heroin, and it's killing us. That's what the numbers say.

Criminal justice officials and addiction treatment providers say that the numbers only tell half the story. Heroin, they say, has moved from a drug used mainly by the poor to one increasingly used by the middle class.

More specifically, it is being used by young men and women younger than 35 who are looking to move beyond the highs they've experienced from prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin.  All this is made possible, experts say, because heroin is incredibly cheap and easy to obtain here.

Still, I'd been out on the street for close to two hours and I hadn't scored.

Weary of role-playing with street kids, I headed home, stopping first for a drink at the Plaid Pantry on Southeast Burnside Street. Sipping my Gatorade in the parking lot, I hardly noticed the young white man who walked up and asked, "How's it going?"

"Not bad," I answered with a shrug.  He countered with, "Wanna buy some bud, bro?"  "No thanks," I answered. Then I asked, "Got any black?"

That's how easy it was to buy heroin on a Wednesday afternoon in Portland. My new friend told me he lived downtown, but his dealer on 82nd Avenue "gets the best (stuff)."

I explained to him that I was on my way to a tattoo appointment, which was true, and couldn't come with him now. I offered $20 for his dealer's number. The number would lead to a call, a meeting place -- often a MAX station -- and the buy.

Cell phone numbers were exchanged, with the promise of an extra $5 for the contact number. After my tattoo appointment, an exchange of text messages, then a series of very fast phone calls setting up a meeting at a quick market on Southeast Foster Road, where I met my new friend and a scruffy companion, maybe in his late 30s, who I took to be his supplier.

My friend tried to hand me a small bag of black tar heroin. I say I need to use the cash machine inside. Somehow, I've got to tell this guy I'm not a heroin user.

He follows me, basically breathing down my neck, no personal space. The machine spits out $20 and I hand him the money. He starts to hand me the bag, but I deflect him.

He gives me a look somewhere between confused and surprised. But thankfully, he doesn't give me a look that says I'm a cop who has tricked him.

He heads back outside to talk to his companion. I explain that I'm a journalist, not a user. Would he talk to me?

He looks at me and says, "Oh my God, that's so f....ing cool."

Ten minutes later, we're in my car, as Jimmy (not his real name) explains how he went from being a University of Oregon athlete so afraid of needles that he had to turn away from movie screens whenever a scene showed a needle going into someone's arm, to a daily heroin user who gets by dealing and occasionally panhandling.

I agree to drop Jimmy at his home in Northwest Portland. But first, a stop at a pub on Northwest 21st Avenue where he uses the bathroom to inject $10 worth of heroin into his arm.

Along the I-5 corridor

People who deal with the local drug scene --from law enforcement officers to drug counselors -- continually use the phrase "perfect storm" to explain Portland's skyrocketing rates of heroin use and overdose.

According to reports from the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials interviewed by the Tribune, meth became harder to produce in Mexico, so the cartels and their gangs turned to producing heroin. Needing a distribution route into the western U.S., the Mexican gangs chose the Interstate 5 corridor.

Meanwhile, according to local addiction treatment providers, a different set of circumstances has been creating a growing demand for heroin in Portland. Oregon has always been an easy place to legally obtain prescriptions for painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, many of which ended up on the black market.

In recent years, studies ranked Oregon somewhere in the top half dozen or so states for abuse of prescription drugs. One 2007 federal study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that Oregon had more youth painkiller abusers than any other state.

In the past year, state and county health officials, hoping to reduce the number of people becoming addicted to prescription painkillers, changed their guidelines, making it harder for physicians to prescribe painkillers. In addition, drug companies in 2010 changed the composition of OxyContin, making it almost impossible for addicts to crush and inhale it for their preferred jolt.

With prescription painkillers harder to get through local doctors and a favorite painkiller almost worthless to hard-core addicts, the supply of black market prescription painkillers became scarcer, and the price headed up.

Pain sufferers who had been dependent on legal drugs to get through the day, as well as recreational users, needed a new supply. And there was heroin, cheaper than the prescription drugs, plentiful and potent.

As outlined in documents from the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center, the Mexican cartels were producing an excess supply of heroin and could sell it cheap, so cheap that local distributors didn't need to cut it in order to make a profit. Instead, they could afford to sell it more pure, and potent, potentially hooking more addicts. But some users, not knowing they might have to scale down how much they injected, died of overdoses.

Dr. Gary Oxman, Multnomah County's public health officer, says he's been expecting the current surge in heroin overdoses. In his view, heroin and prescription painkiller use in Portland are inextricably intertwined.

"I think we probably have these two epidemics fueling each other," Oxman says.

The new wave

Portland has been "a heroin city" for decades, according to Oxman, but until recently the cost of the drug has been high. The new set of circumstances -- cheap Mexican heroin available at the same time county physicians have begun cutting patients off from prescription painkillers -- has changed the fundamental dynamic of heroin in Portland, he believes.

"The heroin got cheaper," Oxman says. "I assume that's not an accidental move on the part of the cartels. I think basically they went from a low-volume, high-price distribution model, to a high-volume, low-price distribution model."

Typically, $10 or $15 will buy enough heroin for an injection that will last all day, according to heroin users interviewed by the Tribune. Prescription pills that will get an addict through the day run about $1 a milligram on the street, so a serious user might have to spend $50 or more to stay high all day, the users say.

Oxman's staff has been studying the overdose problem, even interviewing heroin addicts to get a better handle on what is happening on the street. In an annual survey of people using the county's needle exchange service, 43 percent of heroin users said they became hooked on prescription drugs first. And most of those people were younger, rather than middle-aged or older addicts.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin says many in the "new wave" of heroin addicts started out stealing painkillers from family medicine cabinets or trading for them in schoolyards, made possible because physicians and dentists for years have been prescribing more than individuals needed.

"There's this huge class of people who probably wouldn't have used heroin in their entire lives if they had not become addicted to prescription pills," says Lufkin, who adds that virtually every heroin addict he's interviewed -- a number in the hundreds -- started on pills.

The county overdose statistics back up what nationwide studies have indicated -- heroin has exploded in Portland during the past two years, while its use has remained stable or risen slightly in most large cities outside Oregon.

But physicians across the country have been over-prescribing pain pills, Oxman and Lufkin acknowledge. And while West Coast heroin arrives almost exclusively from Mexico along the Interstate 5 corridor, Portland is not the only city on I-5. Yet there are more heroin deaths each year in Multnomah County than in Seattle's much more populous King County.

One of the most eye-opening studies in recent years comes out of the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, which tallied drug use data for inmates entering county jails in 10 cities across the country, including Portland. More than one in five people entering the Multnomah County jail in 2010 tested positive for opiates -- far and away greater than any of the other nine cities, which included New York, Chicago and Atlanta.

In Portland, 18 percent of county jail inmates reported having used heroin within the prior 30 days. Chicago was second, with 12 percent reported use.

But what is most alarming about the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program data is how different cities appear to be trending. In all the other cities surveyed, heroin use remained fairly consistent in recent years or grew slightly. In Portland, it has jumped.

As recently as 2009, Chicago's reported per capita heroin user rate almost doubled that of Portland. Four years ago, Portland trailed both Chicago and Washington, D.C. Now, at least as far as testing of people entering the jail, Portland is No. 1 and trending higher.

Low risk, high reward

The National Drug Intelligence Center 2011 Drug Threat Assessment Report says that heroin production in Mexico has risen from nine metric tons a year to more than 50 metric tons. Eric Martin, policy and legislative liaison for the Addiction Counselor Certification Board of Oregon, is convinced that Oregon is getting more than its share.

Martin points to a 2007 map produced by the Intelligence Center which shows Portland/Salem as having the Pacific Northwest's largest Mexican cartel presence.

"Portland/Salem is basically the distribution hub for the entire Northwest region," Martin says.

Deputy DA Lufkin says he's not aware of Portland serving as a hub for the cartels, but logic dictates we might be.

"Everything in this world is connected," he says.

As Lufkin sees it, "Certain things are never going to change about Portland that makes it an attractive city for heroin addicts."

That starts with Oregon's drugs laws, which Lufkin says would make Oregon a logical place to set up a drug distribution network.

Most users or dealers caught selling less than five grams of heroin, according to Lufkin, receive a sentence of probation until their fifth conviction, which can net up to 12 months in jail, but rarely does.

That means prosecutors have little leverage to force most small-time dealers to provide names of people further up the distribution system.

"The cartels have found the place that affords them the least risk in drug seizures and the highest reward in distributing to local users," Lufkin say.

In addition, Lufkin says, Oregon law provides prosecutors little leeway in going after black market dealers of prescription painkillers.

"Even if you were trafficking in thousands of pills of OxyContin, it would still be a probationary sentence," he says.

Heroin addicts regularly tell Lufkin that they moved to Portland because of the availability of cheap heroin.

Part Two of Portland's Heroin Epidemic.

Prosecutor: Treat, don't jail heroin users

As far as Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin is concerned, an addict who has been arrested multiple times for heroin possession is sick.

During February's legislative session, Lufkin unsuccessfully supported a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to treat repeat heroin offenders as they would people who attempt suicide, and civilly commit them to treatment, even against their will.

Lufkin says he's going to return for a second attempt next year.

The 2012 session's House Bill 4022 would have classified people arrested at least three times for heroin possession as mentally ill, and set it up so they could be committed for up to 90 days of inpatient treatment and a year of outpatient treatment.

The county prosecutes about 1,100 heroin users a year, according to Lufkin, and about half have prior convictions for possessing the drug. Between court and jail, prosecuting a heroin addict runs between $3,200 and $28,000, Lufkin says. And the jail time, when they get it, rarely does addicts much good.

"We can spend all the money that's necessary to bring someone to a jury trial on a heroin charge with no results, or we can adopt a system that actually is the right tool to hit this problem," Lufkin says. "This person has a disease. They're an addict. It's a recognized mental health disease, and we can get them access to treatment and the thing saves money."

But that would be targeting the wrong people, says Alex Bassos, training director at Metropolitan Public Defender.

The problem, Bassos says, isn't the users getting arrested for possessing heroin. The problem is those who are overdosing. And those two categories, he says, aren't nearly as overlapping as people might think.

Bassos says the DA needs to make it a policy to use current civil commitment laws for heroin offenders who have repeatedly overdosed. Those laws, he says, which allow prosecutors to civilly commit people who attempt suicide, should work.

"That is exactly what civil commitment is for," Bassos says. "They have a (medically defined) mental disorder, and that's compelling them to do something which is dangerous to themselves and others."

Bassos, who says the D.A.'s plan "should terrify civil libertarians," thinks it also isn't practical because there are already long waiting lists for the best treatment for addicts -- inpatient beds in treatment facilities.

Lufkin says heroin offenders already require addiction treatment as part of their probation, and that with civil commitment it would happen more immediately and with a huge cost savings.

"The savings in time will help addicts stay alive and get faster access to treatment," Lufkin says. "The savings in money can go back into treatment resources to pay for essential treatment services, such as cutting down the waiting time for inpatient beds."

— Peter Korn

 

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