An effort is underway to keep Santa Ana’s jail contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with Councilman Jose Solorio scheduling a discussion on the issue for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
ICE officials announced late last month they have begun the process of ending their contract to house federal immigration detainees at the city jail. That came in the wake of a City Council vote on Dec. 6 to reduce the number of people ICE can detain at the jail, which itself came after an earlier vote to slowly phase out the contract entirely.
Pro-immigration activists celebrated the end of the contract, saying it’s immoral for such a heavily-immigrant city, which recently declared itself a sanctuary city for immigrants, to collaborate with ICE.
But supporters of the contract say it provides a critical revenue stream to cover a $3 million per year debt for the jail’s construction, and that the location makes it much easier for families and attorneys to visit people detained by ICE. The contract generates about $340,000 per month in revenue to the city, according to city staff, much of which supports about 86 correctional officers.
It’s unclear how the city would be able to fund the jail staff, who are represented by the Santa Ana police union, without the ICE contract revenue.
There have also been concerns about the fate of transgender detainees, given that Santa Ana has a specific module for transgender people held by ICE.
And the council’s overall dynamic has changed since the Dec. 6 decision. A week later, two new council members, Solorio and Juan Villegas, were sworn-in.
Solorio, who has been advocating to bring back the contract, placed an item on Tuesday’s agenda to discuss re-establishing it.
“We need to discuss the possible financial consequences of losing this federal contract, and our willingness to explore options for continuing it short term and long term,” Solorio told the Orange County Register about his discussion item.
“Many of our constituents don’t want to lose the revenue or their opportunity to visit federal detainees locally.”
Immigration activists, meanwhile, are preparing to keep up their fight against the contract.
“I think it’s disingenuous, that it’s sort of being done under the guise of ‘We care about the people here,’…when it really comes down to the money,” Hairo Cortes, an activist with Orange County Immigrant Youth United, told the Register.
Santa Ana’s contract with ICE dates to 2006. After its existence became public in 2013, pro-immigration activists mounted a campaign to have the City Council cancel the contract.
Their pressure culminated in a decision last May to phase out the contract by the year 2020, and another decision on Dec. 6 to reduce the number of people ICE can detain at any given time from 200 to 128. ICE had previously told the city it would cancel the contract if the city reduced the beds below a certain level, according to city officials.
And ICE officials ended up following through, announcing Feb. 23 that they were triggering a 90-day period to cancel the contract.
Tuesday night’s discussion of the ICE contract is scheduled toward the end of the City Council meeting, which starts at 5:45 at Santa Ana City Hall. Members of the public will be able to comment.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.