May 10, 2021

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Oregon, federal government reach deal for withdrawal of agents

A federal law enforcement officer is covered in red paint during a protest against racial inequality and police violence in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 26, 2020.

Caitlin Ochs | Reuters

Oregon and the federal government have reached a deal for the withdrawal of agents from the anti-racism protests in Portland, according to statements released simultaneously by Gov. Kate Brown and the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. 

“After my discussions with VP Pence and others, the federal government has agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland. They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence,” Brown wrote in a post on Twitter. “Starting tomorrow, all Customs and Border Protection & ICE officers will leave downtown Portland.”

Chad Wolf, the DHS chief, said he had been in regular communication with Brown and that the two “have agreed to a joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland directed at federal properties and law enforcement officers.”

“That plan includes a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland. State and local law enforcement will begin securing properties and streets, especially those surrounding federal properties, that have been under nightly attack for the past two months,” Wolf said. 

While Brown’s statement indicated that some federal officers, including all Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, will depart as soon as Thursday, Wolf indicated that DHS agents will remain. 

Wolf wrote that the DHS would keep its personnel in Portland “until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure.”

“This has been our mission and objective since the violent, criminal activity began,” Wolf said. 

The protests in Portland have occurred nightly for two months, originally spurred by the May killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.

The federal government deployed agents to the protests in early July, claiming their presence was necessary to protect federal property, including the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse. Local leaders and Democrats across the country opposed the presence of the federal agents.

The deal between the federal government and Oregon comes amid mounting litigation. A federal judge on Thursday ordered officers to refrain from targeting journalists and legal observers.

On Tuesday, the journalists and legal observers who brought the case asked the judge to hold the DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service in contempt, citing their alleged failure to abide by the order.

An effort by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to halt federal officers from arresting demonstrators at the protests was rejected on Friday on technical grounds. 

While the Portland protests have been simmering for months, they attracted widespread national attention after federal agents were sent to assist in law enforcement efforts.

President Donald Trump has accused the protesters involved of being “radical left ANARCHISTS!” and taunted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, who was hit with tear gas while attending a demonstration near the courthouse last week.  

On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr defended the presence of the agents during a contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in which Democrats accused him of using the unrest to benefit Trump’s reelection campaign. 

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has criticized Trump for amplifying racial tensions in connection with the protests. 

“Of course the U.S. government has the right and duty to protect federal property,” Biden said in a statement last week. “The Obama-Biden administration protected federal property across the country without resorting to these egregious tactics — and without trying to stoke the fires of division in this country.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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