ICE ends contract to use Santa Ana Jail to detain immigrants

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ending its contract with Santa Ana for use of the city’s jail to detain immigrants. ICE sent notice to city officials on Thursday of its intention to end the contract in 90 days, which both parties were permitted to do under terms of the arrangement. 

The announcement comes on the heels of steps taken by the city officials to offer protection for residents facing deportation, including a “sanctuary” ordinance that prohibits city officials from sharing sensitive information about residents. 

The city also recently moved to set up a legal defense fund for residents facing deportation. Around half of Santa Ana’s population is foreign-born, according to census data. 

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said those moves had nothing to do with the agency’s decision to end the jail contract. But the city’s decision in December to limit the number of beds available to ICE did factor in. 

The agency said in a statement:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) values its longstanding relationship with the City of Santa Ana, but recent actions by the city to drastically curtail the number of beds available at the city’s jail to house immigration detainees meant the existing detention contract was no longer viable or cost effective.”

ICE also noted that the jail is “by far the smallest” detention facility used by ICE in the Los Angeles area. There are currently 74 immigrants housed at the jail — 30 of them in the jail’s special transgender unit.

Immigrant advocates, who have long pushed the city to end its contract with ICE, applauded the news. 

“The City now has the ability to serve as a true model for the nation, free from the profit-driven motives of the immigration detention system,” Christina Fialho, executive director of the group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), wrote in an email. The group opposes detention for asylum-seekers and individuals who have violated immigration laws.

Santa Ana’s city council had been working to phase out the contract under pressure from pro-immigrant and civil rights activists. In December, the city informed ICE that it could no longer use the approximately 200 beds stipulated in the original contract and ordered a study to evaluate potential reuses for the jail. 

At the December meeting where the council voted to reduce available beds to 128, Councilman Vicente Sarmiento indicated he thought the move might prompt ICE to end the contract. 

"My opinion is that as soon as ICE receives this message, which we have no trouble doing ... they’re going to cancel the entire contract,” he said at the meeting.

The city now must find an alternative source for the average $2 million in annual income from the ICE contract or face cuts. 

City staff is currently evaluating two proposals for studies on ways to repurpose the jail, according to city spokeswoman Alma Fausto, but she said there’s no firm date for a selection. 

Immigration officials said the individuals currently detained at the Santa Ana jail will be transferred to other detention centers. 

Santa Ana’s unit for transgender immigrant detainees was the first of its kind in the nation. ICE spokeswoman Haley said there’s now one other such unit in Alvarado, Texas. 

Fialho from CIVIC said the transgender women detained in Santa Ana and seeking asylum in the U.S. should be released. 

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