Santa Ana Backs Away From ICE Contract Expansion

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

An activist opposed to the expansion of a Santa Ana jail contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement is interviewed by a reporter with the Spanish-language station Estrella TV.

A proposal to increase the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Santa Ana city jail  was scrapped after  a throng of activists expressed opposition at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

The scene Tuesday was the latest chapter in a long simmering saga regarding the decision by local leaders to hold immigration detainees in one of the most heavily Latino cities in the nation. This time, attention was focused on  LGBT detainees.

The city jail was built in the 1990s when crime rates were spiraling and the Orange County jail was so crowded it stopped taking misdemeanor offenders. City leaders floated a bond to pay for the jail’s construction, a debt that Mayor Miguel Pulido said started at $128 million.

Then crime rates started to decline and the city jail no longer imprisoned local offenders. To keep paying off the debt, the city contracted with the federal government to jail ICE detainees and U.S. Marshal’s prisoners in exchange for revenue. But even with the federal money, the jail has run an annual multi-million dollar deficit.

In a bid to pay off the debt earlier, City Manager David Cavazos proposed expanding the contract with ICE to increase the average daily bed rentals to a guaranteed 128  LGBT inmates daily — there are currently about 70 — and to increase the maximum number of ICE detainees jailed from 200 to 300.

The extra inmates were expected to bring in an additional $2.2 million annually.

But council members voted unanimously to scuttle the plan after dozens of activists showed up to the council meeting and blasted the idea as an effort to further profit from the suffering of undocumented immigrants. They said it was an offensive revenue tactic for a city that is nearly 80 percent Latino and home to a heavily undocumented population.

“We think it’s extremely shameful that the city is looking to in a sense cover its budget holes on the backs of undocumented people,” said Hairo Cortez, program coordinator at Orange County Immigrant Youth United. “We’re talking about an all Latino City Council about to vote on a proposal that would make Donald trump proud.”

The issue also brought out LGBT activists, including transgender women who said they were jailed at the facility and complained of abuse. Among other things, they said male police officers had conducted strip searches.

“In every instance we’ve documented at the city jail, women who are identified as female have been strip searched by men,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

The contract amendment also would have added a pilot transgender program, including a special “classification and care committee” that would draft the jail plans for transgender women. Among the considerations would be the preferred gender of the officer conducting searches.

Council members largely agreed with the activists who opposed the contract expansion. In addition to voting down the proposal, they also asked the city manager to start planning the phase out of the ICE contract.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez proposed that instead of ICE, the city contract with the county to take inmates that are now housed at the county jail on Flower Street. She mentioned the three maximum-security inmates that escaped from the county jail recently as a reason why the county might be open to such an arrangement.

Martinez also rejected a suggestion to postpone the vote.

“I am emotional to know the despair and the fear you are going through,” Martinez told the crowd. “I do not support the expansion of ICE here in Santa Ana. I will not support a continuance. I would implore my colleagues to have the courage and stand up for what’s right.”

After the vote, activists celebrated their victory outside City Hall and said they would be using the momentum to return and pressure the city to stop all collaboration with ICE.

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  • Mstully00

    These people are illegal and all of the pc doesn’t change the fact these people entered the US against the law. Council members are self serving and ignore the priorities of their non Hispanic contingencies. Ms Martinez has been quoted as claiming the council was a great example of diversity. What diversity? If you are not brown your priorities do not matter.

  • dualwebers

    “I am emotional to know the despair and the fear you are going through,”
    Martinez told the crowd. “I do not support the expansion of ICE here in
    Santa Ana. I will not support a continuance. I would implore my
    colleagues to have the courage and stand up for what’s right.” Ms. Martinez, it is people like you, who are to blame for the, ” despair and fear “, these illegal aliens are, ” going through. ” Because you and your colleagues refuse to enforce the immigration laws of this country, because you have rewarded them with driver’s licenses, because you have failed to make E-Verify mandatory for all employers to participate in and, because you have allowed them to assemble and protest on streets and property that my tax dollars are paying for, and, because you have given into their demands, you have encouraged them to come here. Perhaps you could champion a new feel good program for them. ” Adopt An Illegal “, U.S. citizens, who share your sense of compassion, can assume all responsibility for them, financial, legal, etc., until they have completed the process of earning the privilege of being in this country.

    • LFOldTimer

      You make legitimate points. I’m not sure these folks are very well traveled or when they do travel perhaps don’t open their eyes. No sane nation invites (or entices) illegal indigents from impoverished countries to flow across their borders and occupy their lands. In fact, no one can name a nation that does this (other than the USA). Common sense would tell the average person that it is a recipe for disaster. economically and socially. No mature nation throughout the history of the world became rich or sustained prosperity by importing poverty. If the strategy worked all nations would do it. Mexico would do it. But Mexico vigorously defends its borders and immigration laws. I believe a person with average intelligence would have to be intentionally stupid not to understand these things. But that’s only a personal opinion that hasn’t been sufficiently proven.

      • dualwebers

        LFOldTimer, Unfortunately, common sense has been all but relegated to the point of extinction.

    • Dylan Thompson

      I wonder what you have done to earn the privilege of being in this country? I suppose if being born in a territory annexed through military conquest qualifies, then perhaps Mexico should look into that option.

      • LFOldTimer

        Nearly every nation on the globe was annexed through military conquest, to include Mexico. If Mexico believes it can annex America through military conquest go tell them to go for it. Your argument is empty.

        • Dylan Thompson

          Well when they reclaim California, both of you will have to respect it and move on.

  • Dylan

    One common misconception is that Santa Ana Jail was originally built for the sole purpose of holding local offenders, then when the crime rate decreased they were forced to contract out to external agencies. The fact is that the city built the jail bigger than they needed to from the very beginning, aiming to make money off of contracts to help pay off the huge bond they took out to create the jail, police headquarters, and parking structure. Within a year of opening the jail, they secured a contract with INS, the federal agency in charge of immigration enforcement before ICE.

    Consider the following quote from “GOVERNMENT ENTREPRENEURSHIP: HOW COP, DIRECT SUPERVISION, AND A BUSINESS PLAN HELPED SOLVE SANTA ANA’S CRIME PROBLEMS” written by then Police Chief Paul M. Walters & Jail Administrator Russell Davis.

    “As we evaluated our correctional requirements, we recognized that we
    would have only one chance to build a jail that would meet the needs of the City for the next fifty years. At the same time, we recognized that fulfilling federal incarceration needs could yield revenues to offset our operational costs while benefiting the City and the federal government. Potential contract housing revenues were central to our planning for the new facility. We recognized that a 100-to-150 bed jail would be inherently inefficient. Due to economies of scale, operation of a 450-to-500 bed jail would be much more cost effective. We presented a business plan to the City Manager and City Council to build and operate a 480 bed jail. We proposed to utilize contract housing to fill all of the beds not needed by the Police Department and to generate a revenue stream that would cover most of the facility’s operational costs.”

    • LFOldTimer

      And you know where Walters is today, right? He’s Lisa Bartlett’s Chief of Staff. Now you know the rest of the story.

  • LFOldTimer

    Well, this just means that they’ll have to fill the jail with more pot smokers or those in arrears on their child support. One way or another the cells must be filled to satisfy the police and guard’s union. Empty jail cells are not conducive to more public safety money. I don’t want to put any ideas in their heads – but can’t the SA jail charge other states for holding inmates undergoing an extradition process for crimes committed outside California? That would be a nice little windfall. Then Chief Rojas could put together a special task force to specifically target criminals from other states who are hiding in Santa Ana. Be creative! Look, prison is big business! Start thinking like businessmen! Think profit!

  • Paul Lucas

    The incarceration industry is flat out Human Trafficking. Quick! Someone call Lou Correa!!

    • LFOldTimer

      Oh come on, Paul. Lou is just trying to keep you safe. 🙂