It’s Official, Santa Ana Is Orange County’s First Sanctuary City

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

The crowd erupts into cheers after Santa Ana council members declare the city a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

Santa Ana on Tuesday became the first city in Orange County to officially declare itself a sanctuary for unauthorized immigrants, with the City Council vowing to stand up for families fearful of being separated by deportations when President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.

After dozens of residents and activists spoke in favor of the move at the council’s regular meeting, the council members unanimously adopted a resolution declaring Santa Ana “a sanctuary for all its residents, regardless of their immigration status.” With some exceptions, the resolution says city police, staff and resources will not be used to assist deportations.

The vote was 5-0, with Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilwoman Michele Martinez absent.

Speaking from the dais to a packed chamber, Councilman Sal Tinajero said council members “are resolved to make sure that the message is loud and clear to our community that you will be protected, and this is a safe haven in the city of Santa Ana. Because all we are is hard working people who want our kids to have a better life. What is un-American about that?”

The council also took major steps toward ending the city’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house federal immigration detainees in the city jail. They ordered that the number of detainees be reduced from about 150 currently to a new maximum of 128 people, and approved a process to study how the city could re-use the jail for a different purpose.

“We are interested in eliminating that contract as soon as possible,” said Councilman David Benavides.

It was a major shift from just a few months ago, when the council considered an increase from 200 to 300 detainees, but backed off after a backlash from activists. The contract brings in millions of dollars in revenue to the city, which officials say will have to be replaced when the contract ends.

The actions Tuesday were cheered by the crowd, which filled the 200-person council chambers and spilled into the Civic Center. People “are afraid because a discourse of hate has given permission to a bunch of people in this nation to continue harassing and dividing our families,” said America Bracho, executive director of Latino Health Access, in a passionate speech to council members.

At the same time, she said, the turnout showed that people “are ready to fight, today and tomorrow.”

She was one of about 50 people who spoke in favor of the sanctuary city proposal; no one spoke in opposition.

Some of the speakers were young U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents, while one woman, UC Irvine lecturer Tina Shull, wore a t-shirt that asked “Who Would Jesus Deport?”

The speakers ended up convincing the council to adopt an even stronger sanctuary city policy than what was originally proposed. The added elements include a promise to turn the non-binding sanctuary resolution into law through an ordinance, and a guarantee of a committee of community members to monitor the city’s compliance with its sanctuary policy.

Trump made a harsh stance on immigration the centerpiece of his campaign for president, saying this about unauthorized Mexican immigrants when he announced his candidacy: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

He has softened his tone since the election, but continues to pledge a significant increase in deportations.

In making the sanctuary declaration, Santa Ana joined many other cities across the country, including Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco that have made strong public pronouncements in favor of protecting immigrants since Trump’s election.

Trump has responded by vowing to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities. Some have estimated that Santa Ana stands to lose over $120 million in federal grants if Trump is able to make good on his threats.

UC Irvine School of Law professor Annie Lai disputed such characterizations, saying efforts to block federal funding are limited under the 10th Amendment, which she said would protect federal grants unrelated to immigration enforcement.

The federal government “does not have the power to commandeer state or local officials” to enforce federal immigration policy, Lai said.

Council members also criticized Pulido – who in the past has called “the problem of illegal aliens” an “epidemic” – for being absent Tuesday.

“He always does this when there’s [these] very pressing issues at hand,” Tinajero said. In a rare move, the council refused to excuse the mayor’s absence from the meeting.

“I’m tired of having a mayor who breaks the law constantly, pays his fine to the [Fair Political Practices Commission], and says ‘Hey, I still got what I wanted,” Tinajero added. “Those kinds of leaders we need to remove as a community.”

He also warned residents that they need to stay active and engaged to protect the sanctuary effort, with two of the current council majority members – Angie Amezcua and Roman Reyna – being replaced next Tuesday by two new members – Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas – whose campaigns were funded heavily by the city’s police union.

“I hope that you hold those other council members that are gonna come here – you hold their feet to the fire,” Tinajero said, leaning into the microphone and deepening his voice, “because they’re Latino too.”

The audience erupted into applause. He continued: “Let’s see if that immigrant spirit that they talk about [on] the campaign trails translates to a vote up here.”

Activists now plan to pursue sanctuary policies in other Orange County cities, including the county’s largest, Anaheim.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Ike Baikal

    What about sanctuary for meth sellers and armed robbers? Those people are violating the federal criminal law also. Is Santa Ana seceding from the U.S. as well?

    • James Weaver

      My sentiments, exactly…Hopefully, the Federal government will STOP giving money to Santa Ana for medical, educational and all other entities needing government support. Santa Ana wants to harbor criminals and rely on drug money, from the cartels, LaRaza and Emme, to support its government…Let ’em! The rest of this nation needs to STOP supporting these terrorist.

  • James Weaver

    It’s to be expected…They’ve been successfully taking over the City of Santa Ana for 20 years. Now, probably after receiving a whole lot of campaign contributions from the Raza and Emme, civic leaders have opened the door for all illegal immigrants to come to Santa Ana. The government may as well do away with immigration laws entirely. Then, again, maybe we’ll have another “9/11” incident, perpetrated by a terrorist group, that’ll sneak into the USA via the California and Mexico border, before our civic morons figure out that there’s a real reason why immigration laws are in the books.

    • LFOldTimer

      It amazes me that we have Americans who have no problem with foreigners breaching our borders at will, stealing jobs from US citizens, engaging in identity theft, committing crimes (25%-30% of the California jail beds are occupied by illegals), getting benefits (medical care, education, and other transfer payments) paid for by US taxpayers and turning the cities into gang member infested war zones.

      Santa Ana is complaining because of lack of housing. Gee, I wonder why? Sanctuary cities attract hoards of illegals. They need a place to live too. The result? Overcrowded residential areas. This isn’t rocket science.

    • Ike Baikal

      What it really means is that if you throw your documents away, you become “undocumented” and you get sanctuary even if you kill a police officer, sell crack / meth / heroin, contract killer from another country, gang member, and much more. If you “sanctuary” federal misdemeanors, why not felonies, and the whole lot.

  • LFOldTimer

    Is Santa Ana the first ‘Sanctuary City’ in California with an ICE contract? ha.

    Helping to enforce immigration law and incarcerating illegal aliens is a bad thing unless the Santa Ana city government can make money off it. Then it becomes a good thing.

    Benavides says that SA will end the ICE contract ASAP. I say talk is cheap. Money talks. BS walks. Get back to us in 6 months. If I were a betting person I would triple down that ICE will still be alive and well in the SA city jail. It’s all about the money.

    Oh, and Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 of the US Constitution says the Feds have the authority to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States – which preempts actions taken by the states.

    A significant amount of Federal money provided to states or cities comes earmarked with a mandate to comply with certain Federal laws or lose access to those grants or funds.

    Due to the enactment of the “Trust Act” (which defies Federal immigration law) California risks losing hundreds of millions of dollars in grants or funds. Ouch!

    As soon as Trump is inaugurated and Sessions assumes the title of Attorney General – the honeymoon ends.

    Civilized nations protect the sovereignty of their lands to protect their citizens.

    Civilized lawmakers uphold the laws and defend the US Constitution (as they swore under oath to do upon entering office).

    Individuals can’t pick and choose which laws to follow. Why should local governments be entitled to special exemptions and be allowed to defy the laws?

    If local government officials defy Federal immigration law and an illegal in their jurisdiction who was released from jail back into the community commits a horrendous violent crime like murder or r*pe – maybe the public official(s) who defied the law and Federal authorities should be charged as an accomplice.

    Maybe that would get their attention.

    • kburgoyne

      There obviously is going to be some dancing back and forth if Trump wants to push this. The feds are not permitted to use funding tied to non-related issues to try and coerce local governments. Red states have used that defense a couple times in the past. However “related” can be a very gray area in some cases.

      Gov. Brown, being the savvy and quiet political chess player that he is, just completed his first quiet chess move against Trump by appointing Becerra as AG. Becerra is expected to play the same role countering Trump that the Texas AG played against Obama. Plus Becerra has the option of tag-teaming with NY’s power. So things could get pretty interesting if Trump is actually interested in anything more than simply seeking adoration from a fan base.

      • LFOldTimer

        The Feds have successfully cut Federal transportation funds to states that refused to comply with Federal laws pertaining to highways. They can do it for states that defy or refuse to comply with immigration laws too.

        If you recall, Obama sued Arizona over SB1070 (and won) claiming that the state was interfering with US immigration laws. Trump has the same power over California which is also interfering with US immigration laws. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 of the US Constitution clearly gives the Feds the authority to enforce US immigration laws and if a state interferes with the authority of the Federal government in carrying out it’s lawful obligation there is a price to pay. Arizona found that out. And illegal immigration advocates applauded it. Now that the shoe is on the other foot it’s a little uncomfortable.

        Gov. Brown and Becerra cannot override the law or the US Constitution that BOTH took a sworn oath to uphold and obey.

        • kburgoyne

          As you point out, the money has to be directly related to the issue. The Feds can’t cut highway funding on the basis of immigration. There have been such attempts and the courts have shot them down.