A Montana state employee obligated to provide labor data that ICE would use to take immigrants away from their families decided he would quit instead. Here's why.
Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts said he immediately had reservations — moral ones — after he found out about the subpoenas.
His state agency in Montana would have to send labor data to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And as a legal secretary for the state’s labor department, Dyrdahl-Roberts would have to help process those documents — information that he said would no doubt be used to track down and deport undocumented workers.
So he talked to his wife, and without much debate they agreed on what he had to do, he said.
He quit the following day.
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It was not an easy decision, Dyrdahl-Roberts told The Washington Post.
He has a 4-year-old child, a wife who is working as a substitute librarian while attending graduate school, two cats and about $900 left in his checking account. Quitting would also make him ineligible for unemployment insurance.
Co-workers tried to talk him out of it, he said, and some wondered why he had to do it.
“People have asked why am I doing this if I have a child. I’m doing this because I have a child,” Dyrdahl-Roberts wrote on Twitter. “I want to be able to look my child in the eye.”
Following orders from ICE meant having a hand in breaking families apart, he said — and he refused to follow such orders.
Carl Rusnok, a regional spokesman for ICE, said the agency routinely issues subpoenas to local, state and federal departments, as well as private companies, as part of ongoing investigations. Rusnok declined to comment further.
Montana’s labor department has received 14 subpoenas from the federal Department of Homeland Security since 2014, and the state agency is legally bound to respond to them, said its spokesman, Jake Troyer.
The most recent subpoenas requested UI-5 forms — quarterly wage reports filled out by employers in Montana, the Helena Independent Record reported.
“The Department is in communication with Jordon and it’s our understanding his decision to resign is purely based on his personal opposition to the federal administration’s rhetoric on immigration,” Troyer said in an email to The Post. “Jordon’s involvement in the process of responding to subpoenas was limited to assisting attorneys with processing requests.”
Under President Donald Trump, DHS operates under sweeping guidelines that target not only violent criminals, but also low-level offenders and those with outstanding deportation orders — regardless of how long they’ve lived in the United States.
Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States have surged. Between Trump’s inauguration and last September, ICE officers made 110,568 arrests, a 42 percent increase over the same period the previous year.
One recent arrest involved a Polish doctor and green-card holder who has lived in the country for 40 years. Two misdemeanor convictions from 1992 subjected him to possible deportation. Another high-profile case involved a chemistry professor who moved to the United States more than 30 years ago and was arrested while getting his daughter ready for school. He had overstayed his visa twice and violated a judge’s 2011 order to leave the country.
Dyrdahl-Roberts, who has been critical of the “scandal overload” that he thinks has come to define the Trump administration, loathes hard-line immigration policies that have resulted in countless arrests. And he cringes at images of ICE agents scooping people away from their families, he said.
Those scenes may have affected him more than others, having grown up without a family, at least without a stable one, he said.
“I know what a fragile thing family can be and how fleeting happiness can be,” he told The Post. “My uniquely dysfunctional childhood made me deeply empathetic … I’m not engineered to believe that someone in a position of authority necessarily has your best interest at heart.”
Dyrdahl-Roberts had spent a lot of time finding a family other than the one he was born into.
He said he lived with friends during some of his high-school years, because their families were functional, unlike his.
His mother was abusive and neglectful, he said, and often had a boyfriend take care of him and his brother. That boyfriend abused them, too, he said.
After a custody battle when he was in third grade, Dyrdahl-Roberts lived with his father. It was an improvement, he said, “in kind of a way that a second-degree burn is less bad than a third-degree burn.”
He has not talked to his mother in a decade and to his father in at least two years.
“Have you ever been to a doctor and have them go, ‘Oh my’? I have surprised therapists,” he said. “I understand what it’s like to be kicked in the teeth by life.”
Hence his swift decision to submit his two weeks’ notice on Wednesday and refuse to take part in what he sees as kicking someone in the teeth.
He began a Twitter thread explaining why he resigned, hoping somebody might say he had done the right thing.
Perhaps some would be kind enough to help pay for groceries for a week while he looked for work.
What he didn’t expect, he said, was a deluge of mostly positive messages from numerous strangers, some from as far away as Ireland and Australia.
Others even suggested possible job prospects.
“I don’t have a dollar to my name right now, but God, I admire this and support you,” one Twitter user wrote.
“I hope someone smart on here hires you. You need a job. Best of luck you,” another said.
Dyrdahl-Roberts’ resignation won’t have any impact on the subpoenas; the agency will continue to process them.
But, he said, he hopes his decision to quit — and to do so publicly — will result in something far bigger than himself.
“I want to find some way to keep this going in such a way that maybe more people will do something,” he said.
The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, Samantha Schmidt, Amy B Wang and Maria Sacchetti contributed to this story.