Santa Ana Finalizes ‘Sanctuary City’ Law Just Before Trump Takes Office

With Donald Trump set to be sworn in as president on Friday, Santa Ana City Council gave final approval this week to an ordinance declaring the heavily-immigrant community a “sanctuary city.”

The new law, approved on a 6-0 vote with Councilman Vicente Sarmiento absent, prohibits city police, staff and resources from being used to assist with deportations.

There are exceptions, such as when cooperation is required under a “valid and enforceable federal or state law,” or under a contract, which includes the city’s agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house federal immigration detainees at the city jail. (Click here to read the ordinance.)

Dozens of pro-immigration activists, who worked closely with the city on developing the ordinance, again turned out Tuesday evening, largely to thank the council for their actions. But they also reiterated two requests that haven’t been implemented: the formation of a community task force to ensure the ordinance is followed, and a faster cancellation of the ICE detention contract, which is currently scheduled to be phased out until 2020.

“We cannot truly be a sanctuary city if we continue to have an ICE contract on the books,” said Ivan Enriquez, a resident and immigration advocate. He was among about 20 people who spoke on the issue, all of whom supported sanctuary protections.

santa-ana-immigrant-speakerIn one particularly emotional moment, an immigrant mother of three U.S. citizen children broke down crying, as she described living in deep pain from the deportation of her husband. Her young son walked over from the audience to comfort her and wipe away her tears.

Last month, the council ordered the number of ICE detainees at the jail to be reduced 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. That analysis isn’t expected to start until mid-April, when the city plans to hire a consulting firm to do the work.

A central challenge to canceling the ICE contract is the millions of dollars in revenue it brings to the city, much of which funds jail staff that are represented by the city’s police officers’ union. Cancelation is estimated to cost the city $2 million per year, unless another revenue source is found.

One idea, proposed by Councilman Sal Tinajero, is to facilitate the cancelation by moving jail employees over to vacant city positions in other departments. But that hasn’t gained much traction on the council.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Michele Martinez, a key vote on such issues, reiterated her support for ending the city’s contracts to house other agencies’ detainees in the jail.

“We need to get out of the jail business,” she said.

The number of ICE detainees in the jail did drop to the new 128 cap on Dec. 14 and 15, but then shot up to 171 the next day and remained around that level through at least the end of the year.

Since early December, a key request from immigration advocates has been for the city to set up a task force of community members to ensure the sanctuary policy is followed.

The council agreed to do that, and required it under the sanctuary policy that was first approved on Dec. 6 and the ordinance finalized Tuesday. But the committee apparently hasn’t been set up, and activists again urged council members to set up the committee soon.

The council didn’t indicate Tuesday when that would take place.

Looming in the background of the sanctuary city debate is Trump’s promise to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities, which some of his supporters say could happen as soon as he takes office Friday. Others argue that cities could block the effort under the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which they say protects local governments from being required to enforce federal immigration law.

Gerardo Mouet, Santa Ana’s acting city manager, said Tuesday that he’s not concerned about losing federal funding, given the many bright legal minds in California.

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