Pro-immigrant activists gathered in front of the Santa Ana Jail this morning to celebrate a recent decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end its longstanding jail bed space rental contract with the city. "This means a lot," said Hairo Cortes, Program Coordinator for Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU). "It means for one city, we proved that it is possible to make an agency that tears families apart feel unwelcome and be unwelcome." Organizers with Resilience OC, Las Crisantemas and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation joined for the press conference.
Both ICE and the city had the authority to cancel their 2006 Intergovernmental Service Agreement, but the federal agency moved first. Santa Ana city council voted on December 6, 2016 to reduce the maximum number of immigrant detainees housed in its city jail, a decision councilman Vicente Sarmiento saying then that could prompt ICE's hand. And it did, with ICE stating recent decisions by local government made the contract "no longer viable or cost effective," citing the termination effective in 90 days. As of yesterday, only 74 immigrant detainees are housed at the facility, way down from its original 200-bed terms.
"The City has been committed to expediting the termination of the ICE contract," Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez added in a statement. Santa Ana has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a jail use study, one now with greater urgency. "Going forward, it is imperative that we make decisions that ensure sustainable City operations, including those at the existing jail facility." Santa Ana makes about $340,000 a month from ICE these day with less detainees.
ICE downplayed the significance of ending the contract. "The Santa Ana City Jail is by far the smallest contract detention facility utilized by ICE in the Los Angeles area," read a statement by Virginia Kice, ICE's Western Regional Communications Director. "As the contract termination date approaches, immigrant detainees who are still at the Santa Ana City Jail will be transferred to appropriate housing within ICE's detention system."
Beyond the bureaucracy, grassroots activists reminded those at the conference that constant organizing forced the issue from below since the Weekly first reported about the ICE contract in 2013. The following year, the city actually looking into expanding the contract, not ending it. "It is because of the efforts that the LGBT community along with immigrant rights [activists] here locally were able to put the pressure for the last three years through direct actions," said Jennicet Gutierrez, an activist with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.
In 2014, LGBTQ and immigrant rights activists shut down an intersection in the city demanding the end of the ICE contract, leading to the arrest of five protesters. Another similar protest took place the following year, with five more arrests. Just last May, activists camped out at Sasscer Park on a days-long hunger strike that failed to sway the council's conscience. This year, they briefly occupied city hall, demanding to meet with councilman Jose Solorio over the issue after he met with SEIU Local 721 asking for letters in support of keeping the contract.
"In many ways, I'm more concerned with the financial hardships that will be created for local residents and their attorneys to visit family members or friends in ICE detention centers that will now be many hours away or in another state," Solorio told the Weekly after ICE's announcement. "The Feds told us in their letter they plan to transfer the detainees to other detention centers in their system."
Seriously, Jose: grow back that mustache. That was your conscience!
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And that's where activists plan to pick up the fight. Cortes called for the city to become an advocate to free the remaining detainees as an act of atonement for years of profiting of their detention. "As a trans woman, I know and understand that no detention center is safe," Gutierrez followed. "No cage is going to...give the respect and dignity that we deserve as human beings."
Within the past few months, community activists have pressured Santa Ana city council to pass a Sanctuary City resolution followed by an ordinance, always noting that the designation didn't mean much so long as the ICE contract remained in place. Council members first pledged not to renew the contract in 2020 while also taking steps prior to President Donald Trump's inauguration to reduce the number of detainees under the ICE agreement. OCIYU and Resilience OC will be working with local government, despite Solorio's objection, on establishing a city legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation that the city put plans for in motion this Tuesday.
"It's unfortunate that it has taken ICE to do this," says Resilience OC activist Roberto Herrera. "Universal representation is needed now more than ever, especially now that this contract is coming to an end in 90 days. Now that we're done here in Santa Ana, we're trying to figure out how to find housing and legal services for trans detainees and then move on to the county level to end the 287(g) program with Orange County Deputy Sheriff Sandra Hutchens."
Do you hear that, Sandy? You're next.