Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas took his oath of office at last night's city council meeting, becoming SanTana's 20th police chief and the first Latino top cop in the city's history. But soon after the swearing in ceremony, Chief Rojas publicly acknowledged OC May Day Coalition members present in the chambers and alluded to the policy fight that awaits.
"We have our issues," Rojas said, pointing to activists standing up against a wall. In the packed house, they held protest signs calling on the city to end its collaboration and contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Council members praised the appointment of Rojas in unison. "It's a new day in the city of Santa Ana to have our first Latino police chief," said Michele Martinez. She noted the city's 78% Latino population–and SanTana certainly is different in some ways than in the "good ol' days" of Chief Edward Allen. Martinez's colleague Sal Tinajero spoke nothing but pleasantries about Rojas mixed with attempted humor. "He's short. I'm short. He's brown. I'm brown. He's got a gun…I'm brown," the councilman deadpanned.
After the oath of office and laudatory comments ended, the law enforcement community celebrated with cake outside and posed for pictures. Inside council chambers, the coalition took to public comments to announce their renewed campaign.
Silvia Hernandez of SEIU Justice for Janitors was the first to speak on their behalf. She demanded city officials come forward with their promised jail profitability report and increase transparency on the issue overall. "According to internal memos recently obtained by OC Weekly, you are planning on making even more money from the ICE contract instead of discontinuing it," Hernandez added. "We want the City of Santa Ana to stop collaborating with ICE. We must pass an ordinance to make sure that this stops."
The Weekly reported last week before the May Day march that city officials looked into increasing the daily rate of renting bed space to ICE from $82 to $110 to offset projected deficits. City Manager Dave Cavazos and Chief Rojas traveled to Washington D.C. recently to request the increase from ICE officials. The brown faces in high places are actively seeking to revise and make more money off immigrant detainees in direct contrast with activist demands.
The contract can be terminated by either the city or ICE with an outlined 120-day process. Hernandez called on those supporting families without borders to stand up in support of ending, not mending the 2006 'inter-governmental service agreement' as those in the audience responded holding protest signs for the council to see.
Scott Sink pointed out that the coalition's last campaign reformed vehicle towing policies at checkpoints that adversely affected the undocumented community. He added that in August, SanTana police reformed themselves ahead of the TRUST Act by not automatically sending fingerprints to ICE. The lingering city jail contract leaves him disturbed. "You appear to be reducing deportations with the right hand," Sink said, "but increasing deportations with the left. Human families are not commodities for your business model."
The sentiment echoed in the impassioned pleas of a number of activists that took to the podium throughout the night.
"I don't know what the answer is," said coalition member Joese Hernandez of city jail deficits, "but it's definitely not okay with an all-Latino council, Latino mayor, chief, city manager that we participate in this business of legalized human trafficking any longer. It's not just a budgeting issue," he added after audience applause. "It's a moral issue."
Councilwoman Martinez directed Cavazos near the end of the meeting to work on delivering the jail profitability report and meet with OC May Day Coalition members.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz