Amid pubic outcry over the renting out of Santa Ana’s city jail to house immigration detainees, council members on Tuesday approved plans to increase their revenue from the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
After half a dozen public speakers on Tuesday implored council members to end the arrangement, city leaders approved a legislative platform seeking increased funding from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Council members approved the platform without debate.
Ahead of the vote, activists reiterated to the council that deportations are tearing apart families and eating at the core of their community.
The practice is “forcing our kids to grow up fatherless and motherless,” said Joese Hernandez, adding that the city’s involvement in deportations is “shameful.”
“I am disturbed by the decision to directly participate in the deportation process,” added activist Scott Sink. “We’re here tonight to say that human families are not commodities for your business models.”
They held up hand-made stop signs urging the council to end the ICE contract.
At one point later the meeting, a council member was frank about the angst officials face about that prospect.
“We have 100 employees or so within our jail system,” so the city can’t just close it down tomorrow, said Councilwoman Michele Martinez.
At the same time, Martinez said she understands the impact of deportations on Santa Ana.
“We heard you loud and clear, and I don’t want you to think we are ignoring you,” Martinez said.
“This is sensitive issue. It’s hurting our communities,” she added. “These folks are going to continue to come to the council meetings.”
This comes amid a series of recent activist events aiming to pressure elected leaders to take action against deportations.
Last month, Orange County activists joined a nationwide day of action calling on President Obama to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Two days later, activists were arrested during a sit-in at the Washington, D.C. office of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana):
At Tuesday’s meeting, Activists also questioned why the city has taken so long to release a long-awaited report on the jail’s profitability, which activists said they’ve repeatedly requested since last summer.
“We have waited over a year,” said Silvia Hernandez of the OC May Day Coalition and SEIU Justice for Janitors.. “Where’s the report?”
Councilwoman Martinez agreed that the report should be made public, noting that it was commissioned many months ago under the former interim city manager, Kevin O’Rourke.
“I still haven’t seen that report myself,” said Martinez, who directed City Manager David Cavazos to meet with the activists and give them a copy.
“We need to be as transparent as possible and give them the information that they need,” said Martinez.
City leaders have been contemplating the jail and its cost for well over a year.
It was built in the late 1990s to house local criminals because the county jail was overcrowded. But with a major drop in crime since then, the facility 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 recovering from years of deficit spending that at one point put the city on the brink of bankruptcy. The jail operates at a loss, but the contract helps offset costs by several million dollars each year, according to the city.
The ICE contract can be canceled by the city with about four months' notice.