Immigrant Activists Occupy SanTana City Hall, Demand End to ICE Contract

Dozens of immigrant rights activists chanted their way into SanTana’s city hall this morning demanding a meeting with councilman Jose Solorio. Equipped with a bull horn and protest signs, they began picketing in the front lobby. Private security locked the doors and sent employees away from their work desks. “We will not leave until we meet with Jose Solorio,” activist Jorge Gutierrez declared. “Solorio come out right now!”

Protesters put their signs down and began a sit-in, vowing not to leave until their demand was met. SanTana city council unanimously approved a “sanctuary city” ordinance last week just days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but its contentious jail contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) remains a decade after first being signed.

“We’ve been very clear with city leaders that as long as Santa Ana continues to profit from immigration detention, it can’t in all conscience call itself a sanctuary city,” says Hairo Cortes, Program Coordinator for Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU). “We’ve known since last year that keeping the jail contract is a priority of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. From this whole bloc—Pulido, Villegas, Solorio—that was bankrolled by them is now trying to repay those debts.”

Over the weekend, OCIYU received word that Solorio recently met with members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 and other stakeholders asking them to write letters of support for keeping the ICE contract in place by tomorrow. This comes as the organization believes ICE is seeking to phase out of the agreement after council’s December vote to reduce the number of beds available for immigrant detention. The recent developments prompted this morning’s action.
“They have not made me aware of it,” Solorio said of the protest when reached at work by the Weekly while it happened. “If they give me a call, then we can schedule a meeting.” The councilman offered up the following day as a possible time. Solorio also confirmed the meeting, saying it regarded “vacant positions in city government, and the employee and financial impacts related to the city’s federal contract with ICE.” ICE has so far refused to comment on the contract except to say that the “Santa Ana city jail is by far the smallest contract detention center utilized by ICE in the Los Angeles area.”

During the protest, the councilman left his phone number and response on the OCIYU’s Facebook page. “Although I oppose immigrant detentions that split families apart and have always advocated for comprehensive immigration reform” the councilman wrote, “I have always said that if detentions occur, it’s better for local families to visit the local Santa Ana facility than to drive 3 hours to Adelanto where the other major facility is (or out of state).”

Cortes read the note aloud to protesters who continued their action. “Stop hiding behind social media, Solorio!” an activist shouted. Ten SanTana policemen arrived on scene. While the chants continued OCIYU’s Roberto Carlos Herrera negotiated with Jorge Garcia, the city’s Senior Management Assistant. “[Solorio] is willing to meet with you but this needs to end now,” Garcia said. He offered up 6 p.m. this afternoon at city hall and the activists accepted.

“We’ll be back! We’ll be back” they chanted. 
Both Solorio and activists agree that transferring immigrant detainees to the privately run Adelanto facility isn’t something they want. Outside city hall, Lizbeth Rivera, an activist with Las Crisantemas spoke with SanTana police chief Carlos Rojas about the case of “Fernanda,” a transgender immigrant detainee formerly housed in SanTana city jail. “She was forcibly transferred from the transgender pod to the gay pod and then targeted by a correctional officer in charge,” Rivera told the Weekly. “We filed a complaint with Chief Rojas and the city council. After that she was transferred to Adelanto where she was put into general population with men.”

Before marching back to El Centro Cultural de Mexico a few blocks away, Rivera reiterated a point sure to be brought to this afternoon’s meeting with Solorio. “When the contract ends, everyone should be released to organizations readying to do the work of housing and providing them resources,” Rivera adds. “We don’t want them to be transferred anywhere.”

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