A hunger strike that vows to continue until Santa Ana stops renting out its city jail to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enters its second day today. A visit to the encampment at Sasscer Park in downtown hours into the fast showed three determined activists from Familia:Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU) ready to do what it takes. Their big, colorful banners read “Liberation not deportation” and “End all detentions.”
The hunger strikers are prepared to go without eating for a least a week, if not longer. Jennicet Gutierrez of Familia and OCIYU’s Deyaneira are first-time fasters. Jorge Gutierrez, also with Familia, has gone the distance before. He refused food for 15 days during a hunger strike at Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Los Angeles office in a protest aimed at passing the DREAM Act. Much has changed in the realm of immigrant rights activism since then, but the deportations continue. So, too, does Santa Ana’s decade-old contract with ICE renting jail bed space for $105 per day.
The Santa Ana city council meets this evening, but the hunger strikers haven’t heard from city officials yet. “We hoping they will respond to this hunger strike happening,” Jennicet says. “We’re willing to go as long as we can until the city council members make a decision.” Back in February, activists beat back plans by city manager David Cavazos to expand the contract, calling for an increase of immigrant detainees, including LGBTQ folks, as a way to cut into the jail’s budget deficits.
Emboldened by the quick turnaround victory, activists returned focus on pressuring the city to end its agreement between ICE once and for all. “What that means is that ICE would have three months to pack up and leave,” Jorge says. “That means, being able to pressure ICE to use what they call prosecutorial discretion to get as many people out of the detention center.” The battle has stalled through negotiations for years and needed a new form of protest to shake things up.
Among the demands of the hunger strike include the council calling for the release of transgender detainees in Santa Ana city jail and other facilities just like it. “We have an opportunity, myself being a transgender woman and activist, to highlight the violence we are facing we are facing inside and outside of detention facilities,” Jannicent says. “There’s no need for them to be detained while the process it taking place. The community is willing to help them out and be safe instead of being inside the detention facilities.”
A Human Rights Watch report released this year detailed the complaints of transgender immigrant women detainees at Santa Ana city jail including “humiliating and abusive strip searches by male guards” and not being able to access hormone replacement therapy.” The Weekly reached out to Santa Ana city council members for comment, but none responded.
Among the hunger strikers is 18-year-old Segerstrom High School student Deyaneira Garcia. The OCIYU activist plans to go to school throughout the hunger strike, returning to Sasscer Park after class. “My mom is very supportive,” Garcia says. But mom being mom, she brought caldo de pollo yesterday morning before heading off to work. “Mom, I can’t eat anymore, it’s a hunger strike!” she responded.
The activists are inviting council members to visit them at Sasscer Park to make their support public. Garden Grove mayor and congressional candidate Bao Nguyen already came by last night to check in on the hunger strike. More fasters will be joining Deyaneira, Jorge and Jannicet throughout the week from the organizational ranks of OCIYU and RAIZ. Open mics, performances from community musicians and testimonials are planned for Sasscer Park to keep the morale high.
“Is this the legacy you want to leave behind in your city?” Garcia asks of the council before their meeting this evening. “If Santa Ana was to cancel this contract with ICE, it would set a precedent not just locally but nationally.”