Santa Ana Immigrant Rights Activists End Hunger Strike

Activists trying to stop detention of undocumented immigrants at the Santa Ana Jail announced on Thursday the end of a hunger strike they began on Monday, saying they need to reevaluate their so far unsuccessful strategy.

Three activists – Deayaneira Garcia, Jennicent Eva Gutierrez and Jorge Gutierrez – started their hunger strike a day before the Santa Ana City Council met to discuss the city’s highly controversial contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under the agreement, the city jails undocumented immigrants on behalf of ICE and in exchange for a fee.

City officials say they need to maintain the contract to shore up the city jail’s budget – although a Voice of OC analysis found it would be cheaper just to close the jail – and to detain immigrants who would otherwise be shipped to jails in other states far from their families and support networks.

The activists have countered that any jailing of undocumented immigrants is inhumane and point to a recent Human Rights Watch Report that called out the Santa Ana Jail for its treatment of transgender women. The city has a special unit for the women and officials tout it as a compassionate example of incarceration. But many of the women say they face abuses like strip searches by male correctional officers.

Closing the city jail is also the first step in a larger plan activists outlined to get undocumented immigrants out of ICE facilities and handling their cases through alternative detention programs. They say forcing ICE to ship inmates out of state will give them the political leverage they need to end immigrant detentions.

Instead of cancelling the ICE contract – as the activists wanted – council members decided to slowly phase out of the agreement and let it expire in 2020. The decision enraged the mostly Latino and LGBT activists, who went so far as accusing the all-Latino City Council of siding with supporters of ICE and Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate who has called Mexican immigrants rapists and killers.

When asked why the hunger strikers would break their commitment after the council didn’t relent on Tuesday, Garcia, an 18-year-old high school student, said hunger striking until 2020 just wasn’t going to work.

“As a high school student, my body definitely saw the defeat from the lack of food,” Garcia said.

The announcement came at a vigil outside Councilman Vincent Sarmiento’s home on South Fourth Street. Roberto Carlos Herrera, an activist with DeColores Queer OC, pointed a megaphone toward the home and addressed the councilman and his family members.

“We’re here to let you know we will continue to show up” and “shut shit down,” Herrera said.

Activists then carried a sign that read “Sarmiento meet with hunger strikers” and laid it down on the councilman’s driveway, along with an array of sunflowers. The lights were on in the home, and a young girl could be seen peeking over from another small house on Sarmiento’s lot.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek