The relationship between the City of Santa Ana, Calif. and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is under scrutiny once again. The city has maintained a policy that puts undocumented immigrants behind bars in order to relieve debt and local activists demand a change.
During demonstrations on International Workers’ Day last week, or May Day, activists in Santa Ana, Calif., called out city officials once again for contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in order to make up for some of the city’s lost revenue — an arguably dirty practice the city has been engaged in since 2006.
Though activists in the city have widely publicized this sad reality that Santa Ana officials literally make money by allowing ICE officials to detain undocumented immigrants at the Santa Ana City Jail, members of the Orange County May Day Coalition recently felt compelled to draw attention to the issue once again after they discovered city officials have looked to increase the amount of money they could make from ICE in the last year or so.
According to estimates released last August by Jail Administrator Ann Matulin, the city’s jail is deeply in debt, which officials estimate may be as large as $9.9 million. So when it was discovered in 2013 that ICE inmates accounted for 41 percent of the total inmates at the 460-bed Santa Ana Jail, Dave Cavazos, the new city manager, proposed that the per-diem rate the city was charging ICE be raised from about $82 per day per immigrant detainee, to $110.
Though law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. used to detain suspected undocumented immigrants on behalf of ICE for up to 48 hours without a warrant, even those picked up for minor criminal offenses such as shoplifting or vandalism, the controversial practice is slowly being dropped from department policies throughout the United States, as law enforcement officials try to establish a better, more cooperative relationship with communities of immigrants.
But not all police departments and lawmakers agree breaking their partnership with ICE is a good idea. For example, last August, the Newark, New Jersey police department became the first in the state to no longer honor detainer requests, following in the footsteps of other larger departments in cities such as Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, Chicago, New York City and New Orleans.
While the announcement was widely applauded by immigrant-rights advocates, who said undocumented people would now be more likely to help officers investigating serious crimes in their neighborhood, some Republican lawmakers such as New Jersey’s Third Congressional District Candidate for U.S. Congress, Steve Lonegan, said breaking away from a partnership with ICE would only lead to an increase in crime.
“We’re sending a signal,” hesaid, that “you can come to the country illegally, you can shoplift, you can vandalize but it’s alright. We’re going to make sure you’re safe. It’s a great message to our kids.”
However supporters of the policy responded to Lonegan’s statements by explaining all serious offenders are taken to the county jail, the only difference being that officers wouldn’t just detain a person and call ICE when it’s solely suspected an individual has done nothing but enter the country illegally.
Given that California has a high immigrant population, the state’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has supported limiting local law enforcement’s ability to detain persons who are being considered for deportation too, yet Santa Ana city officials have continued to argue that the decision to work with ICE is a financial and necessary one.
“It’s sad because most of the people in Santa Ana either know someone who is undocumented or are themselves undocumented,” said Lupita Cisneros, a resident of nearby Anaheim, Calif., and President of the Fullerton DREAM Team, who comes from a mixed-status family herself. “They’re supposed to be represented too. City officials don’t take them into account.”
One thing activists have going for them in this fight to stop the city’s relationship with ICE is that last year the state of California passed and implemented a law known as the TRUST Act. Under this law, local law enforcement agencies are highly encouraged to ignore ICE detainer requests for undocumented immigrants who are charged with committing low-level offenses.
But according to Matulin, the city’s ICE contract “isn’t connected to local detainer activities,” so it’s not known how many undocumented immigrants in Santa Ana would benefit from the law. And as the jail administrator pointed out, the law “compels” local law enforcement agencies to ignore ICE detainer requests, but does not require a department to do so.
Besides raising the per diem rate, other ways the city plans to reduce deficits include cutting jail personnel costs and selling the facility to private prison companies such as GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America — private prison organizations notoriously known for putting profit above anything else, namely the treatment of detainees.
In a proposal obtained by the OC Weekly, a report from city officials allegedly claimed that since “It is a commonly held perception among the City’s human rights advocacy groups that inmates are mistreated in facilities operated by private firms,” city officials would allow community members to express their concerns before a decision would be made to outsource jail services.
But according to Cisneros, the city has refused to share jail profitability reports with concerned citizens, even though activists have been asking for more than a year, which is why she says “There really isn’t community input,” when it comes to this particular issue.
Continuing their awareness campaign for ICE’s funding of the Santa Ana jail that began again on May 1, activists are expected to attend the city council meeting on Tuesday, May 6, where they will once again ask city officials to end, not mend, its contract with ICE.
“We want to stop the deportations” Cisneros said. “Most of the Obama administration’s over 2 million deportations have been of people with no criminal convictions. Of the deportees with criminal charges, most of them have been for minor offenses. We are not criminals. The separation of families and attempt to profit from this separation is shameful. We call on the City of Santa Ana to end this practice immediately.”