Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is trying to calm fears over a plan to bring federal immigration detainees into the county’s jails. The sheriff came to the Orange City Council meeting late yesterday afternoon to answer questions.
Hutchens wants to work out an agreement to rent empty jail beds to federal immigration officials so they can hold immigration detainees.
Hutchens says the deal could bring in $40 million a year to help bridge her department's $65 million budget gap.
But members of the Orange City Council aren't so hot about the plan to house immigration detainees at the Theo Lacy Jail in their town.
"The city of Orange has a concern, obviously, about who is being released out of the Theo Lacy facility and onto our streets," said Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche. "So we're very concerned about what level of detainees or what level of criminal element is being brought into our city."
Cavecche said that Orange has an agreement with the county of Orange to make no changes to Theo Lacy. It also has an agreement on how it does business there, she said.
"We need to give approval before they can make any changes," Cavecche said.
Hutchens is trying to quiet fears that holding federal immigration detainees would bring trouble to Orange.
"If we get the contract and we do house some detainees at the Theo Lacy facility, I think they'll see fewer releases to the street," Hutchens says. "So with the detainees, they're not going to be released to the street. They're going to be sent to a federal detention facility or a processing center."
Hutchens points out that nobody wants a jail in their city. And if there's already a jail in town, they get worried when there's a change there. She says she understands those concerns.
Some city council members in Orange said they were uncomfortable with allowing immigration detainees because it could open the door to future jail expansion. They pointed out that past sheriffs were often secretive about plans for jail expansion.
Cavecche says in this case, Hutchens has been forthcoming about her plans.
"Unfortunately, you know, as the proposal is going together, it's a work in progress for the county, so that's the difficulty in trying to get our hands around numbers, types of detainees, who'll be released in Orange, who'll be bused someplace else upon release," Cavecche says. "And so we're looking very closely at the proposal. We have not even seen the proposal. It has not been put together from the county."
Hutchens says her department is trying to figure out how much it will cost to house detainees, so they can go to federal officials with accurate figures. They are supposed to meet in a couple of weeks.
Hutchens says people who live near the James A. Musick jail in Irvine have expressed similar concerns to Orange because immigration detainees would likely end up there, too.