It has been brought to my attention that some of our city leaders have been exploring the possibility of continuing the contract with ICE in order to detain transgender immigrants in the Santa Ana Jail. I would like to suggest that this would be a disservice to the transgender and immigrant populations and the city and I hope that the Council will allow the contract to expire as anticipated in mid-May.

Many city leaders have voiced sincere concern about the fate of the transgender detainees if they were to be transferred to places like Adelanto or Texas. As we are well aware, there is no such thing as a “good” detention center, especially for at risk populations like transgender women who suffer abuse and neglect in these settings. The attempt by ICE to increase the safety and well-being of these women by creating a trans-specific pod in the Santa Ana jail has not been seen as a successful alternative to incarcerating transgender women with the general population. The binary nature of the prison system, which detention is a part of, is unable to effectively and safely care for transgender women. Multiple alternatives to detention have been proposed but mostly dismissed, since these programs are resource depleting as opposed to incarceration, which provides policing jobs and helps to pay down the jail debt. Given the absence of discussion about resources and support for alternatives, it is difficult to dismiss the possibility that the impetus to sustain this part of the ICE contract stems from fiscal pressure more than than from efforts to ensure the wellbeing of the population.

An effort to sustain the ICE detention center in Santa Ana in order to “protect” transgender women will do nothing of the sort. To begin, the incarceration of any person because of their immigration status is inhumane and should not be supported. Further, if the city were to continue the ICE contract to house transgender women, they would be creating a transgender jail and provide incentives for ICE to search out and imprison transgender women in order to fill the beds. This would only increase the fear and marginalization experienced by not only transgender women, but the entire community.

I too struggle with concerns about people being detained in Adelanto or Texas. As an advocate for the LGBT community in Orange County, and as an immigration rights activist, I have been involved in the intersection of LGBT and immigration rights. In 2014 I participated in a protest at the Santa Ana Jail to highlight the poor conditions of the transgender women in ICE detention and have worked closely with organizers, community leaders and elected officials to find a solution to this human rights problem. We connected city leaders with organizations like CIVIC who brought valid proposals about alternatives to detention. Instead of working on these very humane options, the city engaged in a process to determine how to hire someone who can help determine how to come up with a way to determine how to re-use the city jail.

It has been suggested that our activism is to blame if the transgender women are transferred to unsafe spaces, to which my response is that city leaders should be working with the community to do the right thing and develop alternatives to detention and necessary resources, and not to blame the community for fighting for their own freedom. Conversations with city leaders generally cease when I advocate for resources and legal support for releasing the transgender detainees rather than for extending the contract. This seems to reinforce that the bottom line was being driven by the police association and the budget. Regardless of the impetus, the reality is that to maintain a transgender detention jail in Santa Ana is an inhumane and deleterious proposal.

When the election happened, Santa Ana city leaders stepped up to declare Santa Ana a sanctuary city. This was the right thing for this city to do. The end of ICE contract in mid-May is an appropriate and necessary step to ensure that this sanctuary city lives up to its promise. To have continued collaboration with ICE in any way defeats the meaning of this resolution and does not serve to increase the safety and well-being of transgender women, who will be rounded up to fill ICE beds.

I am convinced that the Santa Ana City Council genuinely cares about LGBT people and will stand up to protect our community. In this case, I am also convinced that the right thing to do is to end the ICE contract in full. At this time, local advocates who have spent many years fighting to get ICE of their city, are working diligently with lawyers and resource providers to hasten the release of those currently detained. If city leaders really want to share this genuine concern they should advocate for the release of the people in the jail as ICE reviews their cases. To maintain a contract with ICE and in particular to maintain that collaboration to solely hold transgender immigrants would be to create a jail for transgender women in this city. This would not be in the best interest of this vulnerable population or this city. I implore the members of the city council to end the contract with ICE in full as planned.

Laura Kanter is Director of Policy, Advocacy and Youth Programs at the LGBT Center OC.

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Serrano: Don’t Foreclose Santa Ana City Jail

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

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