When Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts took to Twitter Wednesday night to explain why he quit his job at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry over a request to work on a subpoena from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, he didn’t expect much attention.
Maybe just a few messages of support from friends and a few donations to help his family buy groceries for a week while he searched for new employment.
One day, more than 25,400 likes, 11,300 retweets and far more financial support than he was expecting later, the Helena resident is still processing it all.
“When I put it out on Twitter, I wasn’t expecting it to get the legs it did,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Dyrdahl-Roberts is quitting his job over what it would have required him to do: respond to subpoenas from ICE about Montana employers and their workers.
As a legal secretary with the department since 2011, Dyrdahl-Roberts was asked this week to assist the Department of Labor and Industry in complying with recent subpoenas.
That was something he called "a step too far" for him.
During a conversation Thursday afternoon, Dyrdahl-Roberts had to stop to ask what day of the week it was when running down the timeline of it all. That’s understandable given how quickly everything unfolded for him.
On Tuesday, one of the attorneys he works with said he should expect to work on some ICE subpoenas soon. It was the end of the day, Dyrdahl-Roberts said, so “the only words my brain picked up were ‘subpoenas coming.’”
Wednesday morning when he went into work he clarified that the subpoenas were from ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
“I immediately said, ‘I don’t think I can help with that,’” Dyrdahl-Roberts said. “I began talking with management about what the deal was, but I pretty much understood at that point.”
He quickly called his wife and told her about the situation.
“I said I don’t think I can be the one to assist (the department) with the subpoenas,” he said. “She said, without hesitation, she said OK.”
He's aware of how his decision and sharing it on Twitter plays into a national discussion about legal immigration and people who are in the country illegally, but said that given his location in Montana — a state he said most from somewhere else overlook — he didn't expect the spotlight.
“There’s a lot going on nationally with the direction of the government as a whole that’s pretty scary for people who are plugged in and paying attention,” he said. “When I was asked to collaborate (by working on the ICE subpoena), I couldn’t.”
There are no specific immigration-related issues in his past that led him to oppose the ICE requests. But Dyrdahl-Roberts said his experience growing up "made me empathetic.”
“The way I was raised led me to question authority, like asking, ‘Is this right?'" he said. He grew up believing that "just because the person in a position of authority says something doesn’t necessarily make it true.''
The 2008 college grad also has a group of friends who are passionate about social justice issues.
As his 4-year-old child played in the background Thursday, Dyrdahl-Roberts said he understands the department’s legal obligation to comply with a court-ordered subpoena, but said he has a moral obligation not to.
“The conversation was, ‘You understand this is part of your duties, and if you can’t execute your duties you have to quit or be fired.’ I put in my two week’s notice.”
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The Department of Labor said Thursday that the job of the legal secretary is to assist attorneys by processing documents received, which often includes scanning, filing and mailing documents.
“Jordon understood that such processing was a required part of his job,” said Jake Troyer, communications director for the department.
"Jordon was offered assistance in finding another position with the department” and was not disciplined for his tweet, Troyer said.
The department has had subpoenas from Homeland Security in the past, Troyer said, including three requests each in 2017 and 2016 and four requests each in 2015 and 2014.
The latest subpoenas requested “all UI-5(s) and workman’s compensation coverage reports” from employers, specified both by name and Federal Employer Identification Number, according to Troyer.
A UI-5 form is a Montana Employer’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Quarterly Wage Report. The form includes an employee's first and last name, as well as Social Security number.
A spokesman for ICE did not comment specifically on requests the agency has made in Montana, but emailed the following statement Thursday:
“As a federal law enforcement agency, (ICE) routinely subpoenas other local, state and federal agencies and private companies for information in furtherance of ongoing investigations. For operational security reasons, ICE does not comment on ongoing investigations.”
Dyrdahl-Roberts said he enjoyed working at the Department of Labor. “The overall vision of the department, that was a thing that I was passionate about and believed they were doing good work,” he said.
But he couldn't stay after the subpoenas. “I’ve got a fairly low-down-the-ladder job. I don’t have the ability to affect policy. It wouldn’t be my choice to make this into a fight. I just had to make a decision for my life.''
Dyrdahl-Roberts didn’t say how much money he had received after posting his tweet announcing his departure and seeking donations to his PayPal account to help buy a week's worth of groceries. But he said enough money has come in to provide a cushion to help him find another job he could be passionate about.
“I’m humbled,” he said. “I had just over a thousand followers (on Twitter) before this started. I thought some people would kick some cash our way (and) it would be like a week’s worth of groceries that would give us a bit more time for me to find a job.”
By Thursday afternoon, Dyrdahl-Roberts told his now-3,845 Twitter followers, “You’ve helped us more than enough. We will now be okay while we look for jobs. If you’re still feeling generous consider sending money (to) Flint or Puerto Rico.”
I can't thank you all enough. There has been so much support that thanking people individually has become a logistical impossibility. I do want to say my wife and I appreciate the support.— Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts (@dyrbert) February 8, 2018
It’s been hard to keep up with all the back-and-forth on Twitter, but from what Dyrdah-Roberts has been able to track, support has come come from around the country and as far away as Ireland.
There have been a few negative reactions as well, but Dyrdahl-Roberts said because he’s a white man, he's less likely to be attacked on social media.
"I’m white as rice and a guy, so there’s a different Twitter culture that gives me a latitude to say things without extreme harassment campaigns," he said. "It’s a lot easier to be a straight white guy on Twitter than it is to be anything else. I got a few comments, but they are far, far, far outnumbered by the number of positive comments.”
The overwhelming support has helped Dyrdahl-Roberts feel confident what he did was right, he said.
“I was having a little bit of doubt,” Drydahl-Roberts said. “I knew it was the right decision, but I thought, ‘Did I just explode my family’s entire future, and for the right reasons, but also for people I will never meet?'”
Dyrdahl-Roberts said it’s too early to know what that next job may be, but he’s got at least one idea.
“A million years ago when I was in high school, I worked at a really tiny local newspaper,” he said. “It was one of the jobs I enjoyed the most. Afterwards, life changed directions and so I didn’t end up pursuing that. Maybe a career in journalism is in the future. That’s my reach goal.”