Santa Ana Council Hears Debate Over Fate of City Jail

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

A transgender woman pleads with the Santa Ana City Council to cancel its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Tuesday night’s Santa Ana City Council meeting became something akin to a public trial of the city jail, with the facility’s employees and immigrants rights activists taking opposing sides on the controversial edifice.

Depending on the speaker, the jail is either a cruel and inhumane lockup for undocumented immigrants – particularly transgender women – or a compassionate alternative to harsher jails in other parts of the country.

The debate occurred as council members were scheduled to consider looking for a consultant to conduct a jail “re-use study.” That decision would be a concrete step toward terminating the city’s almost decade-long contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for housing immigration detainees, the expressed goal of several council members.

Latino activists have long criticized the arrangement with ICE as morally unconscionable for a city that is nearly 80 percent Latino. And in February, the activists won an important victory when they convinced council members to reject a proposal to expand the contract and, for the first time, seriously consider terminating it altogether.

At the February meeting the activists focused specifically on the plight of transgender women who say they faced abuses while detained at the jail — such as strip searches by male correctional officers.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, dozens of jail employees and other supporters showed up to counter those allegations. They said the activists had painted a one-sided and inaccurate picture, and that the jail was in reality a far more humane facility than what had been described.

The employees who spoke included correctional officers, jail counselors and teachers. The jail offered classes ranging from general education to computers and also counseling services. They also said the jail’s atmosphere is much more calm than other facilities.

If the ICE contract were cancelled, detainees would be transferred to other jails farther away from the inmates’ families and with tougher environments, the employees said.

“You’ve been given a one sided picture or story of how we operate our jail,” said Jaime Manriquez, a correctional officer at the jail.

Activists and former detainees who are transgender balked at those arguments. One transgender woman said she complained about her liver illness but never received treatment. Others said officers had demeaned them and said specifically that an officer Molina had called the women “Mr.”

“I was locked up in Santa Ana jail for six months, and it was like hell,” said Jessica Latona, a transgender woman.

City leaders had been working on a pilot project that would “take into consideration the transgender detainees’ preferences as it relates to their custody and housing placement within the facility,” according to a meeting agenda staff report. However, the project would be dropped if the council chooses to continue down a path toward exiting the jail business.

Activists argued that ICE can’t be trusted to conduct humane detentions, and that the city must exercise a 90-day contract cancellation clause.

But council members cancelled the hearing early and before public comments could conclude, having punted the issue because they couldn’t achieve a quorum. Council members Angelica Amezcua, Michele Martinez and Miguel Pulido had left the meeting early. And Councilman David Benavides said he was sick and also had to leave.

With the early adjournment, city leaders plan to continue the hearing at another council meeting in the near future.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • gazoo

    Shutting down the jail should not even be considered until the bond is finished being paid for.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I am not a big believer in blowing up balloons for pity parties for people who go to jail justly. If you don’t want to deal with jail, I recommend you NOT BREAK THE FREAKING LAW! However, there is no reason for any jail to tolerate the abuse of human rights. Every person should be treated with a basic level of dignity and humanity. As to ICE, same thing applies. If you don’t want to be detained, then go back home to whatever country you came from, apply to come here legally, and then wait your turn like everyone else. There are people around the world who do it the right way, but many have to wait far longer than they should, because of those who exploit the location of our border in proximity to their country, and come here in direct violation of sovereign law. Don’t give me crocodile tears, kiddies, because you know it is breaking the law, and you don’t give a ding dong about it. Cry me a river…and go home.

    • LFOldTimer

      But Jacki – illegal immigrants who cross the border into the interior of California aren’t even arrested anymore for immigration violations. For God sakes – they give them California drivers licenses! So the State of California has willfully sanctioned illegal immigration. Governor Brown actually stated on his televised debate with Kashkari that illegal foreigners needed California driver’s licenses to get to work in the morning. So our own Governor not only sanctions illegal immigration – he sanctions illegal immigrants violating both State and Federal labor laws! ha. And Brown is sworn under oath to uphold the laws!

      It’s my understanding that under the California Law called the “Trust Act” it is a violation of the law for a California State or County or City jail to transfer an illegal immigrant over to the Feds for deportation unless he or she has committed a serious violent felony. So logic says that these ICE detainees who are being held for deportation committed some pretty serious crimes.

      So I’m confused what these activists are demanding. Are they saying that illegal immigrants who commit serious felonies should not get sent back to where they came from? What other nation allows those who commit serious crimes to remain in their countries after they’ve completed their jail sentences for serious felonies?

      That illegal immigrant who shot and killed that Kate Steinle in San Francisco has been deported FIVE TIMES for previous felonies. Knowing this – the San Fransican jailers put him back out on the street after he finished his sentence for his most recent crime – and it cost Kate her life!

      Any rational human being would say this is pure insanity. So I have no idea what the basis for the argument is in the article. Adam didn’t explain it well. Hopefully he will do a follow-up article to eliminate our confusion. But if the activists believe it’s morally wrong to jail serious criminals because they happen to be illegal immigrants – then the activists are nuts.

      • Jacki Livingston

        I would rather they give them a driver’s license as not! At least you know they passed a driving test and if they hit you or don’t support their kids, you can suspend it. And, they have to show proof of insurance. So, meh, on that front, I am with the state. But, you can never get a handle on illegal immigration until you go after and punish the employers who hire them for pennies on the dollar. That is where we have to get tough.

        • LFOldTimer

          As long as you know that rewarding people who enter the country illegally with a state driver’s licenses is sanctioning illegal immigration – because that’s exactly what it does. It sanctions illegal behavior and provides an incentive for more to violate the immigrations laws.

          Governor Brown is sworn under oath to uphold the laws. That means all laws. The oath not give him the luxury of picking and choosing which laws he would uphold. So if the Governor can violate his sworn oath and incentive criminality – what sort of message does that send out to the rest of us?

          • Jacki Livingston

            Yeah, I know. My view is a practical once, simply to make sure they know how to drive and a tool to hold if the violate the law on support. It isn’t palatable, but the lesser of two evils.

      • Jacki Livingston

        LOL…about the last line…liberal doesn’t mean stupid. *ggg* I think I am more moderate than liberal. But when it comes to crime, I believe that if you do the crime, you better be ready to do some time, because that is how it works. Illegal immigration is a crime, and when I see the refugees who are begging and would do anything for a shot at life here, then the people who just slide on over and take advantage? Yeah, it makes me mad. The American dream should be for those who really, really want it, enough to do it legally.