Immigration Agency Cancels Santa Ana Jail Contract

Federal immigration authorities have decided to end their contract to house detainees at the Santa Ana Jail, pointing to the City Council’s decision to reduce the number of detainees who could be held there, according to a city news release.

It said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, in a letter to the city, announced they were triggering a 90-day period to cancel the contract. It follows plans by the council to phase out the contract entirely by 2020, as well as a decision in December to reduce the maximum detainee population to 128 people at a time.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) values its longstanding relationship with the City of Santa Ana, but recent actions by the city to drastically curtail the number of beds available at the city’s jail to house immigration detainees meant the existing detention contract was no longer viable or cost effective,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement to the Orange County Register.

The move was met with praise from pro-immigration activists, along with questions about how to handle losing the millions of dollars in revenue that the contract brings to the city.

“In the fight to make Santa Ana live up to its values we just took a huge step forward,” said Hairo Cortes, an activist with Orange County Immigrant Youth United, in a statement.

“In the fight to push back against deportations and detention we just made one city inhospitable for ICE. As the ICE contract is phased out over the next 90 days the city needs to take responsibility for its role in profiting from human suffering and move quickly to advocate for the release of all immigrants detained in its jail.”

It’s unclear what the city will do to make up for the loss in revenue

City staff noted in their announcement of the cancellation that Santa Ana receives about $340,000 per month from the ICE contract.

The entire jail – which also houses U.S. Marshals Service detainees and handles bookings of Santa Ana arrestees before they go to county jail – employed 67 full time correctional officers and 19 part time officers as of December.

And Councilman Jose Solorio says he’s worried about family members and attorneys of detainees now having to travel long distances to visit them.

“In many ways, I’m more concerned with the financial and time hardships that will be created for local residents and their attorneys to visit family members or friends in ICE detention centers that will now be many hours away or in another state,” Solorio said in a statement to the Register.

It’s unclear where the Santa Ana Jail detainees will be held in the future. ICE has contracts to house detainees in two jails run by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, as well as a private jail near Victorville, about an 80 mile drive from Santa Ana.

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