OC supervisors approve more immigrant detention beds for ICE

Members of the Orange County supervisors have approved a plan to rent more immigration detainee beds at the Theo Lacy Facility to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Members of the Orange County supervisors have approved a plan to rent more immigration detainee beds at the Theo Lacy Facility to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. via Flickr

Orange County supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to rent an additional 120 detention beds at the Theo Lacy Facility to immigration officials that will provide up to $5 million more in revenue to the county.

The move allows the county to earn more from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for housing immigrant detainees. Speakers protested the plan during the supervisors' meeting and urged it be voted down.

The Rev. Kent Doss, a Unitarian minister from Lake Forest, was among the opponents speaking on the proposal.

"Paying for county services by incarcerating people is shameful," Doss said. "Seeing dollar signs instead of human beings is shameful."  

Several people in the crowd shouted "Shame!" after the supervisors approved renting out the additional detention beds.

Renting out additional beds brings in funds that will help the Orange County Sheriff's Department cover shortfalls and provide services, a department spokesman, Lt. Lane Lagaret, told KPCC.

"We have budget shortfalls every year in the millions of dollars," he said. "It is basically going to help our general fund, to help run our department."

According to Lagaret, the county currently rents out 838 detainee beds at the Theo Lacy Facility and another 277 at the James A. Musick Facility in Irvine. He said the county is reimbursed at a rate of $118 per bed per day, with the county receiving about $94 of that amount. The rest goes to pay for medical care.

The expansion approved Tuesday will increase ICE detention space at Theo Lacy to about 960 beds, Lagaret said. The additional bed space will generate about $5 million a year for the department if the space is maxed out.

ICE had approached the department about obtaining more detention space, Lagaret said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is losing local detention beds after ending its contract with the city of Santa Ana, where it rented space in the city jail.  In late February, ICE sent a notice to Santa Ana city officials that it intended to end the contract after the city took steps to help residents facing deportation, including adoption of a "sanctuary city" ordinance.

In an emailed statement, ICE officials told KPCC that "the termination of our detention contract with the Santa Ana City Jail, which becomes final May 24, reduces the number of beds available to ICE locally and, as such, the agency is continuing to consider its detention options."

Orange County began renting vacant jail cells to ICE in 2010, hoping to ease the county's  budget shortfall. But the contracts have come under fire, especially recently with stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.

Earlier this year, Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General reported that federal inspectors found a host of problems at the Theo Lacy Facility after a surprise visit in November. Among the issues cited were spoiled lunch meat, moldy shower stalls, broken telephones, and immigrants with low-level or no criminal records housed with serious offenders. 

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