Tensions High as Santa Ana Council Narrowly Nixes Keeping ICE Jail Contract

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Santa Ana City Councilman Jose Solorio.

A split Santa Ana City Council narrowly rejected an effort to revive the city’s jail contract with federal immigration authorities Tuesday.

The revival proposal was brought forward by Councilman Jose Solorio, who said losing the contract would harm immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as hurt city revenues and jail jobs funded by the contract.

His effort was loudly and sometimes dramatically opposed by pro-immigration activists, who interrupted the meeting with chants calling Solorio a “Latino Trump.”

At one point Solorio argued with activists, telling them they didn’t understand the “hurt” inflicted on detained immigrants and their families when ICE detains them hours away at a jail in the Mojave Desert.

Ultimately, the revival failed on a 3-3 vote, with one council member absent.

In response to past decisions by the council to phase out the contract, ICE recently announced plans to cancel the agreement to house its detainees in the city jail.

Among other effects, the cancellation means a loss of millions of dollars per year in revenue that pays for dozens of jail staff who oversee the federal detainees.

Santa Ana’s jail generally houses people held on federal and state charges, but not those detained by city police. Instead, people arrested by local police are held at the county Sheriff’s Department jails at no charge to the city.

The Santa Ana city jail. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

After the council voted Dec. 6 to reduce the maximum number of ICE detainees at the jail, two new council members – Solorio and Juan Villegas – took office following their wins in the November election.

Solorio proposed fully re-establishing the contract, saying Tuesday that allowing it to be canceled would mean families of detainees and their attorneys would have to drive hours away to an ICE jail in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto.

“Ensuring that detainees are taken far away from family and legal counsel will not help them,” Solorio said, citing an email he said he received from an immigration attorney he didn’t name.

“Folks are gonna be transferred instead to places like Adelanto” in San Bernardino County, Solorio said, noting the Adelanto facility is run by a private company. “If you think the conditions in our facility or other public facilities are bad, they’re much worse in private jails.”

And, he said, bringing back the contract would generate $70 million to $80 million in revenue to the city over a decade-long period, revenue he said the city desperately needs. The contract could generate twice that amount if nearly all of the jail’s beds were filled with ICE detainees.

But a crowd of pro-immigrant and LGBT activists in the audience remained adamantly opposed.

During public comments, they said reinstating the contract would turn the City Council’s back on the immigrants they promised to protect through the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, for the sake of financial profit.

“What kind of sanctuary city does business with immigration enforcement authorities?” asked Luis Gomez, an advocate for LGBT immigrants.

The activists said the contract’s phase-out has already led ICE to release immigration detainees they were holding at the Santa Ana jail.

And they accused Solorio, Villegas, and Mayor Miguel Pulido of trying to “pay back a political debt” to the police union for helping them get elected last year. Earlier in the meeting, Solorio responded to such allegations by noting every council member was endorsed by the police union at some point in the past.

Pro-immigration activists at Tuesday night’s meeting. (Photo by Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

When Solorio cited the contract’s revenue for the city, and the potential loss of “good paying jobs” at the jail, tensions quickly escalated.

Laura Kanter, an advocate with the LGBT Center OC, shouted from the audience that the money would be generated “on the backs of other people.” The jail has a unit specifically for transgender ICE detainees.

Solorio fired back. “Some of you unfortunately don’t know what real hurt is,” he said.

It takes “hours and hours” for immigration attorneys to drive the round trip to the ICE jail in Adelanto, Solorio said.

A couple dozen activists, many of whom were holding signs that said “Stop [Profiting] Off Of Immigration Detention,” then rose from their seats, loudly chanting “Latino Trump!” at Solorio over and over again.

With the activists not letting up their chants, Pulido called a break in the meeting so the activists could “settle down.” They kept chanting, accusing Solorio of being a “vendido” – Spanish for “sellout.”

After a few minutes, the meeting resumed and council members, without further discussion, cast their votes on reinstating the contract .

The vote deadlocked 3-to-3. Solorio, Villegas, and Pulido voted for it, while Sal Tinajero, David Benavides, and Michele Martinez opposed it. The seventh council member, Vicente Sarmiento, didn’t attend the meeting.

That means Solorio’s proposal didn’t move forward. He declined to comment about the vote after the meeting.

Hypothetically, the contract could be revived if Sarmiento supports it at a future meeting. But he has so far voted to phase out the contract.

The fate of 80-plus workers at the jail now hangs in the balance. It’s unclear whether city leaders will find another funding source to keep their jobs, or lay them off. A city-commissioned study into alternative uses for the jail hasn’t yet started, and is likely months away from completion.

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

  • loudchapina

    Solorio is nothing but a VENDIDO who would vote against his own family if it was a stepping stone for him.

  • Greg Diamond

    The thought that, as happened with the state prisons, if they don’t have enough space to keep people they might stop arresting so many seems not to have occurred to Ted Cruz’s favorite Santana Councilmember.

    • LFOldTimer

      What are they supposed to do when someone commits a serious crime?

      Give him or her a mulligan?

      I suspect the illegals foreigners in the SA jail under ‘Beds for Feds’ awaiting deportation committed some pretty serious violations over and above immigration crimes to be part of that program. The chances of being an illegal alien in California and being deported for unlawful entry into the county are slim and none. You have to be one bad boy to get kicked out of the country, even if you happen to be an illegal.

      Go read the provisions of the Trust Act, Counsel.

      There were more minority inmates in America’s jails under Obama than under Bush or Clinton.

      Consider that.

  • Paul Lucas

    This is going to follow solorio for life.

    • LFOldTimer

      Everyone said the same thing when the FPPC fined him $3500 for using his campaign funds to rent an apartment in Ward 3,

      How did that work out?

      Oh, I forgot. In a 7 candidate race he won with more than 42% of the vote. The 2nd place finisher only got 17% of the vote. He came out smelling like a rose.

      Scratch that. I guess it didn’t follow him afterall.

      • RyanCantor

        ^^^ Bingo. No one cares. A nice polished campaign is all that really matters.

        • LFOldTimer


          the average voter is incredibly stupid.

          union money = polished campaign.

          now it’s payback time.

          taking all that public safety money then axing all those jail workers wouldn’t be the polite thing to do.

          if you were in business and one of your customers spent $100,000 or more on you wouldn’t you give him preferential treatment?

          it’s the way the system is designed. it’s not just solorio. most politicians are sold out to the highest bidder.

          we don’t run this country. the corporations and unions do.

          • David Resendez

            Ladies & Gentlemen: I present to you LFOldTimer, the average voter.

          • LFOldTimer

            I see you’re back again with your lame insults.

            The facts in my post must really put a crook in your neck, hombre.

            Have you ever had an original thought or formed an actual opinion on the subject matter of these blogs?

            Or is that too tall an order for you to handle??? lol.

          • David Resendez

            There you have it folks. In the age of Trump, the “smartest” guy on the internet presenting ill-conceived opinions as fact. Lol.

          • LFOldTimer

            Well, like a bad penny he’s back again with vitriolic personal insults that add nothing of value to the discussion.

            Don’t you have a tail to bite to relieve your angst?

        • Yup. Nobody gives a darn this buffoon is running their city. He was useless as an assemblyman and useless as a city councilman. The only reason he came back to home ground is because he knew he couldn’t take a higher seat. But, nobody sees him for the crook and liar he is.

          • Greg Diamond

            Oh, he was quite useful in both capacities!

            Not to his constituents, of course. But to big donors who want “favors”? HIGHLY useful!

            And boy, he is just SLAVERING after Pulido’s job once the Once Mayor-for Life is termed out. (IF they leave that term limitation alone, of course….)

          • LFOldTimer

            Solorio is only one clown in the clown show.

            I blame the electorate. They put him in office.

  • LFOldTimer

    Now the in-fighting commences. lol.

    The natives are angry that the chiefs are experiencing buyer’s remorse on cancelling the ICE contract.

    A light bulb finally illuminated with some council members that if the city loses $325,000 in monthly ICE revenue that it’s going to put the city in a financial pickle considering that they owe $24M plus interest on their city jail. So the back pedaling begins. Perhaps they finally spoke to the city finance director about the facts of life. ha.

    And the jail guard union no doubt went ballistic on the council for threatening 80 jail guard jobs. lol. We know public unions run government – so this is no small conundrum for elected officials who live and survive off union endorsements and donations. On one side you’ve got the money man screaming at you and from the other you’ve got illegal alien activists climbing the walls. lol. Good luck with that!

    Of course consideration for the actual illegal alien inmates comes in a distant third. If the council was really concerned about their relocation out of the county they wouldn’t have cancelled the contract in the first place. So compassion for the inmates is nothing but a head fake. Ignore it.


    And so entertaining to watch.

    What are they going to do when Trump comes for their Federal grants???

    Back pedal on their sanctuary city status??? lol. Now that’s one SA city council meeting where I want a front-row seat so I can watch the beads of sweat drip off the council faces onto the dais.

    And don’t forget. The city has already committed to pay the CIVIL legal fees for the illegal aliens who fight deportations too!!! ha. That will certainly run into millions of SA tax dollars.

    Unintended consequences!!!

    Beware what you wish for!!!

  • Mike Tardif

    Solorio is right – the detainees will be moved further away from families & their attorneys. Ending the ICE contract is primarily being pushed by Soros paid type out of town agitators – not Santa Ana residents.

  • Mike Tardif

    “Hypothetically, the contract could be revived if Sarmiento supports it at a future meeting. But he has so far voted to phase out the contract.”

    Voting to phase out the contract seems like a chicken way out. The contract would be ended when Sarmiento & the others would be out of office.