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Labor department worker explains why he quit his job and refused to help ICE
Ted Eytan/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)
‘When you hear these stories of undocumented people, these are people, these are humans.’
When Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts was told on Tuesday he’d be processing labor records subpoenas for Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) once he got to work the next day, he didn’t think much of it.
It wasn’t that Dyrdahl-Roberts, who works at Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry, wasn’t concerned, he told the Daily Dot. But that he’d been churning through a separate project, distracted and not processing what he’d heard.
It wasn’t until he got home from work that night that the now-former legal assistant realized the gravity of what he’d have to do—take part in a process that may eventually lead to the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants. So, instead of following through with the records request, Dyrdahl-Roberts made the difficult—but not “hard,” he notes—decision to not become complicit in ICE’s mission.
On Wednesday morning, Feb. 7, Dyrdahl-Roberts arrived at his office earlier than usual. He had a conversation with the attorney who previously informed him of the ICE request; he called his wife, talked to his boss, and then made his final decision. After working for the department for seven years, he quit.
“I understand [the department] has to comply. I cannot be part of that…I couldn’t live with myself if I had done that. I just couldn’t,” Dyrdahl-Roberts told the Daily Dot. “Pretty much once had I called my wife and without hesitation, she said, ‘OK,’ I was like, ‘Alright, I guess I’m doing this!'”
Jake Troyer, communications director for the department, told the Daily Dot that it’s their understanding that Dyrdahl-Roberts resigned “purely based on his personal opposition to the federal administration’s rhetoric on immigration.”
According to Troyer, between 2014 and 2017, the department, which is legally bound to respond to subpoenas, had received 14 requests from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, three of which were filed in both 2016 and 2017. Troyer didn’t specify how many of these subpoenas were requested by ICE, nor if the subpoena that Dyrdahl-Roberts quit over had already been fulfilled by someone else at the department.
While Dyrdahl-Roberts acknowledged that it could have been possible he’d completed requests made by immigration-related agencies in the past, the name “ICE” on this particular request stood out to him.
He didn’t want to be a part of a system that let ICE continue its attack on undocumented immigrants—despite being offered an opportunity to transfer elsewhere in the department, or having another co-worker complete the request. Dyrdahl-Roberts said that his negative, “Lifetime movie-esque” childhood made him particularly empathetic to people in difficult circumstances, and DACA recipients particularly.
“When you hear these stories of [undocumented] people, these are people, these are humans,” he said, explaining that he felt it doesn’t matter how “accomplished” a person must be in order to remain in the U.S. “As a child, you don’t get to choose what your parents do or where they go. Children are powerless, and so these people in particular, they didn’t have a choice, they didn’t choose this.”
Shortly after noon that Wednesday, Dyrdahl-Roberts sent out a simple message on Twitter—”Seriously, fuck ICE”—before sharing his story in full five hours later.
Looking for some positive affirmation from the people he felt close to (many of his friends are on Twitter), he disclosed what happened in a five-part Twitter thread, sharing that his family wasn’t in a place financially to make the decision simple, but that he found it one he morally needed to make, nonetheless.
So, yeah, about that.
I put in my two weeks notice.
I work at Montana Department of Labor.
There were going to be ICE subpoenas for information that would end up being used to hunt down & deport undocumented workers. https://t.co/TqBBjPDmNa
— Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts (@dyrbert) February 8, 2018
Later that evening, Dyrdahl-Roberts opened his Twitter app to find that hundreds of people had begun to latch onto his story, leading to tens of thousands of Twitter users responding to, retweeting, and liking his account.
True courage is standing up for your ideals in the face of adversity. It looks like this. https://t.co/dFHlWXYoQX
— Brooke Binkowski (@brooklynmarie) February 9, 2018
Read this thread from a @ICEgov employee under the racist, xenophobic asinine policies of the Trump regime.
TY Jordon for being a man of integrity & ethics!
I’ve said this before: If you've ever wondered what you would have done in 1930s Germany, congrats– you're doing it now. https://t.co/D56Ryg1GDi
— Trinity (@TrinityResists) February 8, 2018
THIS. This is how we stop this administration. It takes the courage and integrity of people who refuse to just follow orders. This is the example. https://t.co/uPz00eUIN4
— kat calvin (@KatCalvinLA) February 8, 2018
With $900 in his checking account and his wife currently in grad school and under-employed as a substitute librarian, the newly unemployed Dyrdahl-Roberts included a PayPal link for donations, and said he thought that $10 here and there from friends would help them out for a few weeks of groceries.
To his surprise, it didn’t take long to receive enough to help his family get by for awhile, so he deferred additional donations to supporting efforts in Flint, Michigan, and Puerto Rico.
Before going viral, Dyrdahl-Roberts’ political contributions amounted to vocalizing his opinions of President Donald Trump (“He’s a white supremacist,” he told the Daily Dot, describing himself as a “blue dot” in Republican-leading Montana) and donating locally what little money he and his wife could offer while living paycheck-to-paycheck.
But now that he has some time to sit with his newfound unemployment, he’s considering using his background as a nonfiction writer to pursue a field that would allow him to keep pushing against the Trump administration, perhaps as a journalist or a speechwriter.
“I’m still having trouble processing it? Like, I am not emotionally prepared for people to call me an ‘inspiration,'” he said, laughing at himself. “Looking back on it now, I can see why it would resonate with people under the current political climate. I was not expecting this at all. I have been humbled by the response, the outpouring of support…There are complete strangers on Twitter reaching out saying, ‘This is what real resistance looks like,’ and I’m like, ‘I… I… OK? This is new.'”
While Twitter has helped champion Dyrdahl-Roberts’ story across the social media platform and into major media outlets including HLN, Univision, and the Washington Post, he wants other self-described “nobodies” such as himself to know that, no, he isn’t an example of the resistance hero that progressives are hoping will save minority communities from Trump’s oppressive siege: They are. He said that, though people are looking for “heroes” to save the less powerful, they too have the capability of “saving” others.
“You can do things, you, random person who thinks they have no power over anything. It won’t always work out in some magical way, but if we can reach a critical mass, some sort of self-stating middle finger to the administration—they require compliance to get things done that are getting done, so, hey, let’s try not complying,” Dyrdahl-Roberts said. “I understand the impulse to just survive [and not create a disturbance], but really, maybe it’s time we try a new strategy.”
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.