The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday signed off on a plan that would see beds at two Orange County jails rented out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for housing of immigration detainees.
The agreement comes after a 17-month long process that saw the Orange County Sheriff’s Department compete with other counties for the valuable detainees — each of whom will bring in $118 a day in federal dollars. All told, county officials are expecting to receive $31.2 million in revenue from the feds to house 838 detainees.
The deal is expected to all but erase the Sheriff’s Department’s budget worries.
However, still lingering is the question of whether the deal violates an agreement the county has with the city of Orange concerning the Theo Lacy jail, which, under the deal with the feds, will rent out 472 beds to ICE.
The city’s agreement with the county calls for a cap on the number of inmates that can be housed at the jail of 2,800 inmates, according to Orange City Manager John Sibley. The city does not want to see the jail, which is in the southwestern part of town, expanded or used to house more inmates than allowed.
Weighing heavily on the city are concerns that there would be increased inmate releases within city borders and particularly around the city’s largest shopping complex, known as the Block, which is adjacent to the jail.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens says not to worry — 91 percent of the immigration detainees are eventually deported, and the ones who aren’t end up being sent to federal facilities.
Hutchens added that the beds to be used by immigration detainees would normally be used for county jail inmates. It’s an important point, she said, because it actually reduces the number of inmate released into the city of Orange.
Hutchens’ argument does not completely sway Orange officials, Sibley said. There are other arguments, he said, one being that the immigration detainees could attract undesirable visitors from out of state.
“We’ve got a lot at stake there,” Sibley said.
Sibley said the ultimate decision of whether the city will file a legal challenge against the county rests with the City Council, which will meet and take up the issue next Tuesday.
And even if the Orange situation is resolved, county Supervisor John Moorlach isn’t convinced that the county jail competition for detainees was over.
“What happens if they [ICE] find another facility that they sort of like better?” Moorlach said. “If this is attractive to us, it may be attractive to 57 other county sheriffs who say, ‘I’ve got room,’ and all of a sudden we see a decline in revenue.”
Hutchens said there is a minimum guarantee of 500 immigration detainees for the county, but she didn’t say how much revenue would go down if only the minimum number were housed.
— ADAM ELMAHREK