SanTana Activists Vow to Continue Fight After ICE Contract Hunger Strike Ends

Activists protest outside Councilman Sarmiento's mansionEXPAND
Activists protest outside Councilman Sarmiento's mansion
Photo by Gabriel San Roman/OC Weekly

Well into its fourth day, pro-immigrant and LGBTQ activists called off their hunger strike after the SanTana city council failed to void its decade-long contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Jorge Gutierrez, Deyaniera Garcia and Jennicet Gutierrez camped out at Sasscer Park in downtown but the hunger strike didn't end there.

Backed by grassroots organizations like RAIZ, Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU) and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, the three held a candlelight vigil last evening outside the home of councilman Vince Sarmiento in protest. Two days into the fast, the SanTana city council discussed its contract to rent city jail bed space to ICE for $105 a day per detainee. The Tuesday meeting was a rancorous one, with Donald Trump supporters calling on the council to renew the contract.

After a lengthy debate, the all-Latino council voted to end its deal with ICE...when it expires on June 30, 2020. They also directed city manager David Cavazos to commission a $50,000 jail reuse study. Both votes were unanimous affairs, save for councilwoman Michele Martinez who was absent for the meeting. The hunger strike also called for the immediate release of transgender immigrant detainees, but Cavazos gained authorization for an ICE pilot program for transgender detention care. Needless to say, further foot dragging only served to anger hunger strikers and activists alike who vow to hold elected officials accountable. 

The candlelight vigil outside the Sarmiento household marked the first action in that effort. Residents inside the mansion closed the blinds and locked a gate once activists assembled outside. The three hunger strikers walked up the councilman's driveway with sunflowers in hand. "We want to make sure he gets a clear message of why the community decided to have a vigil here," Jorge Gutierrez said, citing Sarmiento's vote. "He did not stand with the community. He is in collaboration with ICE."  They laid the sunflowers down on the pavement with a protest sign reading, "Sarmiento cancel the ICE contract now." 

Wonder what the Sarmientos are going to do with their flowers?EXPAND
Wonder what the Sarmientos are going to do with their flowers?
Photo by Gabriel San Roman/OC Weekly

Activists vowed to hold Sarmiento and his colleagues accountable. "Councilman Sarmiento has really tried to champion immigration as his issue," says OCIYU's Hairo Cortes. A series of symbolic resolutions the SanTana city council has passed on national immigration issues over the years while leaving its local contract with ICE untouched leaves much to be desired. "Here, Sarmiento had an opportunity to do something substantive," Cortes adds, "and he failed on that end."

Deyaneira Garcia, the 18-year-old Segerstrom High School senior who fasted for the cause, spoke before council on Tuesday evening. Right before she walked up to speak during public comments, a Trump supporter barked "I hope they die" in reference to the hunger strikers. But at least the Know Nothings acknowledged them, unlike the council members. "They never once referred to the hunger strikers," Garcia says. "I felt very undermined." The young activist shamed the city council by wishing them an enjoyable meal after the meeting while she continued her fast. Councilwoman Martinez made up for missing the meeting by visiting the Sasscer Park encampment yesterday around noon. 

Despite being famished for four days and not swaying the council members with the hunger strike efforts, Garcia remains incredibly upbeat. "We had folks staying up 24/7 just taking care of us," Garcia says. "My tummy has been filled with all the love and support the community has shown." 

She left for home after the half-hour vigil ended at 8 p.m. to finally grab a bite to eat.

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