Missoula County Court House

The Missoula County Courthouse stands at 200 W. Broadway in Missoula.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is seeking an agreement with Missoula County to install radio and communications equipment at the county’s radio facility in the Rattlesnake Mountains.

The proposal from the federal agency eliciting fierce protests in recent months drew immediate skepticism from at least one local elected official following a Tuesday meeting.

“As for federal agencies, I don’t think there are any that have gained as much notoriety as ICE for their practices recently,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier told the Missoulian. “I’m concerned with allowing county property to be used for purposes that do not align with the values of the people of Missoula County.”

The federal agency has come under increased scrutiny and controversy during the Trump Administration. Activists and some progressive politicians have called for the immigration agency to be abolished, spurred by the federal policy of separating children from their parents when the asylum-seeking families attempt to enter the United States.

Adriane Beck, Missoula County’s emergency management director, introduced the federal agency’s request to county commissioners Tuesday. Beck said she brought it to the commissioners’ attention to determine if they were interested in pursuing further discussion with ICE about installing an antenna and other equipment at the Point Six facility.

After some questioning, the county commissioners requested an in-person meeting be set up with representatives from ICE. Commissioner Strohmaier questioned why ICE would want to have dedicated communications equipment in the Missoula area. Though Strohmaier said he has not yet read the draft agreement ICE proposed, he was skeptical of letting the agency access Missoula County infrastructure.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent this draft of an agreement to Missoula County requesting access to the Point Six radio facility.

The city of Missoula has not designated itself as a sanctuary city, or a city that limits its willingness to cooperate with federal immigration and deportation authorities. At their meeting, commissioners did not discuss any previous actions they may have taken as a board, and it was not immediately clear Tuesday if previous commissioners had adopted any related resolutions.

However in March 2017, the Missoula City Council voted to oppose a bill in the Montana Legislature that sought to ban the creation of sanctuary cities in the state. And one year earlier, the council adopted a resolution to join a "Building Welcoming Communities Campaign" to help refugees and support some of the 60 million people displaced by war and conflict around the world. 

Many government agencies and nonprofit organizations use space in a handful of the county’s radio facilities around the area, ranging from groups like the Missoula Electric Co-op to the FBI. The radio facilities in Missoula allow for a direct connection to Helena and the U.S.-Canada border, where there are federal law enforcement outposts.

The Point Six facility is on U.S. Forest Service property, but the county has the power to grant access to other government and nonprofit agencies, and it has also allowed some for-profit businesses access for a fee. Beck said other law enforcement agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Administration, have traditionally been allowed equipment space at the facility when requested.

If allowed space to install its own communications equipment, ICE would be able to operate on its own radio frequencies, Beck said, without needing access to frequencies belonging to other agencies, such as those used by the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

Beck said the last time she was aware of ICE operating in the Missoula area and coordinating through other agencies' radio frequencies was during a Hells Angels motorcycle rally in the area. The county’s chief operating officer Christian Lounsbury clarified that the rally brought multiple so-called outlaw motorcycle gangs to the area, whose members included people with extradition warrants from other countries.

A date is not yet set for ICE to meet with the county for further discussion of the radio equipment agreement.

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