OC Supervisors Expand Immigration Detention in County Jails

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

From left: Orange County supervisors Michelle Steel, Lisa Bartlett and Shawn Nelson during the ICE contract discussion at Tuesday's meeting.

Orange County supervisors, during a highly emotional meeting Tuesday, voted to expand the county’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allowing Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to hold an additional 120 federal immigration detainees at a time in county jails.

The unanimous decision came after more than three dozen public commenters spoke against the expansion and none supported it. Members of the audience responded to the decision by shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the five supervisors, and supervisors’ Chairwoman Michelle Steel ordered security officers to clear the meeting room.

Reporters and a news photographer attempting to document the removal of activists were also ordered to leave and threatened with arrest, before an official eventually intervened to allow the journalists to stay, a change from the county’s previous approach to news coverage of incidents inside the meeting room.

In requesting the ICE contract expansion, Hutchens said it would bring an additional $5 million in revenue to the county without requiring more staff.

“In my opinion, it is far more humane to keep people from this area here” than in far-away detention centers in Adelanto or Bakersfield, said Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who joined the unanimous vote for the expansion.

But dozens of residents who addressed supervisors adamantly disagreed with Nelson’s argument.

During nearly two hours of public comments before the supervisors voted, 37 speakers urged them to not expand the ICE contract, and nearly all called for ending immigrant detention in county jails altogether. No public speakers supported expanding the contract, or keeping it in place.

“Shame on us for seeking financial gain by putting innocent women and men behind bars,” said the Rev. Kent Doss, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Mission Viejo.

“Surely we all must know that seeing human beings as commodities to make money out of their incarceration is wrong, and we will be judged.”

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

About 45 people stand up during the supervisors’ meeting to show their opposition to expanding immigration detention at county jails.

Among other things, speakers said the expansion would make it easier for ICE to split parents who don’t have a criminal record from their U.S.-citizen children. An undocumented Garden Grove father, who has lived in the U.S. since 1998 with no criminal record, was detained by ICE on Monday, according to the Orange County Register.

Speakers also said the Sheriff’s Department’s cooperation with ICE will make crime victims even more fearful of talking to local law enforcement for fear they or their families would be deported.

“People aren’t gonna have faith in the police anymore. Crimes are not going to be [reported]. Victims of domestic abuse are not gonna want to come forward,” said Irvine resident Felicity Figueroa.

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Olga Reynolds of Costa Mesa holds up a sign pleading with supervisors to “Please Listen” to the overwhelming sentiment of public comments against expanding the ICE contract.

The commenters also pointed to a March audit report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, which found ICE detainees at the county’s Theo Lacy jail were served rotten lunch meat, forced to use moldy showers, and separated into solitary confinement in violation of ICE standards.

Among the groups advocating against the ICE expansion were the faith-based Orange County Congregation Community Organization and Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, as well as the LGBT Center OC, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Supervisor Andrew Do listens as Minerva Gomez of La Habra, an immigrant rights organizer, pleads with the board to reject the proposed expansion of ICE detainees in the county’s jails.

When it came time for supervisors to discuss the proposal and vote, Nelson was the only supervisor who commented.

“Obviously the overall topic is extremely sensitive, and it’s extremely emotional for a lot of people. We get that,” Nelson said.

But, he said, the county has no say in ICE’s decisions to arrest people.

“These people are already detained,” said Nelson, who disputed the notion that expanding the contract will make it easier for ICE to detain more people.

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Nelson speaks about the ICE contract expansion at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.

“If we did not agree to allow already-detained people to remain here in Orange County, these very same people would be moved” to either Adelanto, in the desert north of Victorville, or somewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, he said. Nelson’s comments at one point elicited loud groans from audience members.

Hutchens also responded to the concerns about jail conditions, saying of the inspector general’s audit: “We have addressed all of their concerns.”

“The [audit’s] statement about the food was incorrect,” she added. “The food was fine, but we did make some changes that they requested. And it’s all been dealt with.”

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Hutchens answers questions from supervisors before their vote to expand immigrant detention in the county’s jails.

Hutchens’ proposal increases the maximum capacity for ICE detainees in the county’s jails from 838 to 958. There were 761 immigration detainees in county jails as of Tuesday, according to the sheriff’s spokesman, Lt. Lane Lagaret.

All five supervisors – Nelson, Andrew Do, Steel, Lisa Bartlett, and Todd Spitzer – voted to approve the expansion.

When the item passed, dozens of audience members became furious. They started shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at supervisors, their voices rising in intensity each time they chanted.

Steel tried moving on to a different agenda item, but was met with pushback from audience members who shouted at her. She then declared a recess and ordered the room cleared by sheriff’s officers.

Almost all of the audience members left the room, but Venezuelan immigrant Maria Ruiz-Merroth, overcome with emotion, sat crying in the front row for several minutes. She was comforted by another woman who had spoken at the meeting, and neither left their seats as officers told them to go.

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Maria Merroth of Irvine, an immigrant from Venezuela and a U.S. citizen for the past 36 years, sobs uncontrollably, clutching a Venezuelan flag, after the supervisors voted to expand immigration detention in county jails. (Photo by: Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC)

Sheriff’s special officers, who provide security at the meetings, also ordered Voice of OC and Orange County Register reporters, who remained in the room to witness the activists’ removal, to leave.

“I really don’t want to take you guys to jail,” said one of the officers.

As a Voice of OC reporter asserted a right to document their actions, the officers continued to insist the reporters leave.

It was the second incident in a month in which a reporter was threatened with arrest for attempting to remain in the board room to film the removal of activists.

Eventually, county spokeswoman Carrie Braun intervened Tuesday to say credentialed media would be allowed to stay in the back of the room, and the reporters were allowed to witness what happened. That was a change in the county’s approach, which previously required news reporters to leave or face possible arrest, meaning they couldn’t document how officers handled activists who remained.

In an effort to get the two activists to leave, Deputy Sheriff Kevin Taylor, who is in charge of security at the supervisors’ meetings, approached them with a friendly, gentle tone of voice. He was successful in getting them to exit the room voluntarily.

After the room cleared out, Hutchens disputed that the expansion of ICE detention would make crime victims more fearful of police, saying her deputies do not enforce immigration law.

Activists disagreed, and said they would continue to pressure officials to end ICE detention in local jails.

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

  • ocrino

    Off course spritzer voted yes. Have you ever heard him speak? When he says the words “Hispanics” or “Latinos” its very creepy. You can hear and feel his condescending attitude. He is a “closet racist.” He has even had to pay for treating minorities as second class employees. This guy is reminds me of someone who is in drug rehab every other month. https://talesfrombehindtheoccurtain.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/rumor-has-it-the-republican-party-has-embraced-a-sexual-harassment-councilman/

  • Ed Romero

    If anyone needed to be DETAINED, it was that former Chairperson of the O C GOP, former Judge, former Chief Probation Officer and finally former Director of Health. She accomplished all of this with a HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION. She Smoked so much Marijuana at her residence in the City of Anaheim that her neighbors would call our Probation Records Unit complaining about all the Marijuana fumes floating over to their houses (I handled one of those numerous phone calls). She used her positions of POWER to Hire and Promote her numerous Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking, Cocaine Snorting GOP Racist Lesbian friends to positions that should of gone to more qualified applicants. There is presently one Clerical Supervisor that had so many complaints of Sexual Harassment filed against her that she had to be removed from her work area and sent to our Records Unit where she continued her nasty filthy behavior, her only claim to fame was that she was the DOORMAN at that Lesbian Bar in Garden Grove where the Chief Probation Officer hung out with all her Employees, the Chief Probation Officer would write out a check to the Bar Owner and the Mister Mark the DOORMAN would lock the doors, the lights turned off, the music turned up and a MATTRESS thrown on the Pool Table. She finally resigned when all of this was EXPOSED.

  • ocrino
  • LFOldTimer

    Hopefully Mr. Gerda will report on Supe Nelson’s proposals for 200-bed temporary homeless shelters on county land in Santa Ana, Huntington Beach and Irvine (yes, you aren’t seeing things that aren’t there. I wrote IRVINE! ha). The OC Register has already reported it.

    Now finally a supervisor with the gonads to propose big homeless shelters in some high brow cities! ha. Watch it go over like a lead balloon with the others. Spitzer wants to be the next DA and Steel has her eyes on a congressional seat. They won’t step on Irvine’s or Huntington Beach’s toes. Bartlett represents south OC so she’ll fight it tooth and nail! Watch them all poo-poo Nelson’s idea. NOT IN MY BACKYARD YOU WON’T!!!!! LOL!

    I’ve been arguing for this forever. It’s time to spread the homeless people across the county and not just drop the homeless population bomb on Anaheim.

    Only when it spreads into the high-brow neighborhoods will REAL SOLUTIONS get found to deal with the reasons for the growing homeless population which is not just limited to mental illness. I have listed the reasons before and they are being ignored. Unless politicians face the TRUTH the homeless population will continue to grow and grow and grow!!!

  • OCservant_Leader

    The OC Sheriff’s department should not be adding any new responsibilities to an already poorly run organization. Period. All you have to do is read the Sheriff Deputy’s evaluation of Management to understand how 3 murderers escaped the jail.

    I would love to see how the Sheriff can manage hundreds of new detainees without hiring more staff….REALLY??? In OT’s words “pull my other thumb”!

    PS – BOS clearing the room of the public – by FORCE -who were voicing their disapproval was…special. Makes me want to wave our great Country’s flag. NOT!

    • LFOldTimer

      Empress Steel is getting pretty proficient at clearing rooms. I’m surprised she didn’t continue her meeting without the public present. County government is already quasi-3rd world. Might as well go full circle and make it official. The County should order Steel a gold crown to wear during the course of county business and mandate everyone to address her as “Your Majesty”. Honest to God, if she’s elected to Congress I’m leaving California.

  • LFOldTimer

    I hope all of you are smart enough to understand something.

    This decision to expand ICE inmates in the county jail has NOTHING to do with the Sheriff or the Supervisors being anti-illegal immigration. Nothing is further from the truth. More illegal immigration means more cheap labor that the GOP’ers love and it means more crime for the Sheriff – which is the butter that covers her bread. More crime = more cops, bigger kingdoms and a more secure police state. Probably 30% of the inmates in California are illegal aliens. If you happen to be a cop or a prison guard – what’s not to love about that?

    No, the ICE jail expansion is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, HONEY!!! It’s all about the BIG BUCKS and the padding the Sheriff’s fat budget. Plus, more inmates requires more guards. So AOCDS (the police union) loves it too. More jail guards with high school educations making $200,000+ compensations, compliments of the county taxpayers!!!

    It’s a scam all the way around. And the illegal alien advocates are being played like a fiddle. The Sheriff and the Supervisors are actually your FRIENDS, not your enemies. They make money off the illegal aliens so they don’t want less of them….they want MORE. Until you understand that simple fact you’ll always be behind the eight ball.