May Day Coalition Demands Santa Ana End ICE Jail Contract

Members of the Orange County May Day Coalition Tuesday night called on the Santa Ana City Council to terminate a contract that has the police department jailing undocumented immigrants on behalf of the federal government.

"The federal immigration model does not fit the current era," said Scott Sink, an organizer for the coalition of Latino rights groups and labor unions. "Santa Ana is taking advantage of these outdated policies in order to raise additional revenues by identifying, holding and ultimately deporting local residents."

The coalition's speakers urged council members to end the practice of housing undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation in the Santa Ana Jail. Under a contract with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the city is paid $82 daily per inmate.

The coalition has pushed the issue of the city jail and ICE detainees into public view, but city leaders have been contemplating the jail and its cost for some time. They have indicated that the jail will be considered in budget discussions going into next fiscal year.

The city's jail was built in the late 1990s to house local criminals because the county jail was overcrowded. But the need to jail local offenders no longer exists, and the facility in this heavily Latino city now is primarily used to hold ICE detainees and U.S. marshal's prisoners.

Ending the ICE contract would almost certainly be a significant blow to the city budget, which is still fragile as city leaders only recently pulled the city back from the brink of bankruptcy. The jail operates at a loss, but the contract helps offset costs by several million dollars each year, according to city records. On a daily basis, about 200 of the jail's inmates are ICE detainees, according to the city.

These inmates come from throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties, Police Chief Carlos Rojas said. "These are prisoners that are already in the system, so they're already in federal custody. We just house them," Rojas said.

Councilman David Benavides asked that the ICE contract go to the council's Public Safety Committee for review.

This isn't the first time that the coalition has targeted Santa Ana on behalf of immigrants. The group also successfully lobbied to change the rules for impounding vehicles driven by unlicensed motorists. Police now give the driver has at least 20 minutes to have the vehicle picked up by a licensed driver before police impound the car.

The coalition lobbied for the rule because many of the city's unlicensed drivers are undocumented immigrants.

After public comments, Councilman Sal Tinajero addressed the audience in Spanish and referred to the coalition's previous success on vehicle impounds. But before Tinajero could translate his statement to English, a member of the crowd shouted "don't talk down to us."

"I just don't appreciate the lack of respect," Tinajero said of the interruption. "We're not antagonistic to what you stand for."

Please contact Brendan Wiles directly at brendan.wiles@gmail.com

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