By Jose Servin
The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to stuff more undocumented immigrants into Theo Lacy jail for profit. The 120-bed expansion at the Orange facility, urged by Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, came despite about 20 public comments against the move, and none in favor of it, during the Board of Supervisors meeting. It came despite a petition signed by over 230 people in opposition.
Republican supervisors approved the expansion despite a scathing report by a government watchdog agency, who after a surprise visit to the jail last year, called for the Orange County Sheriff's Department to address health and safety concerns such as moldy bathrooms and serving spoiled lunch meat. And it came right on the heels of a successful years-long activist struggle involving numerous protests, council meetings, and even a hunger strike by community organizations, including Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU), to pressure for the end of a similar jail contract between ICE and the Santa Ana this month.
Hutchens and the Supes somehow believe that this expansion will benefit OC’s undocumented communities, giving their jailed loved ones a cage close to home—that is, until they get deported far away. It's hard to believe Hutchens, who in February petitioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions to allow her to detain undocumented immigrants beyond their release dates (a practice found unconstitutional in 2014) so that ICE can deport them, has the best interests of undocumented immigrants in mind.
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The Supes are dupes if they genuinely fell for that line.
What's clear is that this expansion is about profit, not the well-being of undocumented folks. Jailing more undocumented immigrants is expected to increase revenues by $5 million annually. Supervisors need to take bold steps in protecting the communities they are sworn to serve, instead of giving priority to profit driven by anti-immigrant fervor.
If the Supes truly believe, as their mission statement says, in “making Orange County a safe, healthy, and fulfilling place to live, work, and play, today and for generations to come,” then they shouldn't worry about keeping detained immigrants close to their families.
They should focus on keeping families together and out of jail altogether.