Santa Ana Officials Seek to Make Even More Money Off Immigrant Detainees in City Jail Contract with ICE

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JoEse Gloria
Getting the protest signs ready
The Orange County May Day Coalition (OCMDC) is all set and ready to go for its annual march in SanTana. Marking International Workers' Day, the downtown demonstration starting at 2 p.m. in Sasscer Park kicks off a political campaign with a familiar goal--ending the city's collaboration and contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There's only one problem for activists revving up to continue last year's fight. According to documents obtained by the Weekly, city officials are looking to increase the amount of money they make off granting bed space for ICE detentions at Santa Ana City Jail to cover deficits.

Last year, activists publicized an 'inter-governmental service agreement' signed in 2006 between the city and migra. The terms allowed immigrant detainees to be housed at the local jail at a per diem rate of $82. OC May Day Coalition members mobilized around the issue calling on the Santa Ana city council to kill the contract. They were countered with a fiscal argument noting the facility ran million dollar deficits over the years.

A report on retooling options for jail operations promised to come in August of last year. Jail Administrator Ann Matulin's delivered an "options analysis" in September to then-city manager Kevin O'Rourke and Police Chief Carlos Rojas in which they projected "deficits of over $9.2 and $9.9 million" for the current and next fiscal period.

"It is a commonly held perception among the City's human rights advocacy groups that inmates are mistreated in facilities operated by private firms," the report claimed. "If the decision is made to outsource jail services. consideration of community concerns will have to be addressed." City staff met with representatives of firms like the Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America. They decided on writing up a formal request for proposals.

The memo comes as news to activists. "With the May Day Coalition, we've been asking for the jail profitability report for almost a year now and they've haven't given it to us, says Lupita Cisneros. "There really isn't community input."

A follow up memo in mid-December approached the issue of ICE and the city jail more directly. Dave Cavazos, the new city manager, informed Mayor Miguel Pulido and the city council that in 2013, ICE inmates comprised 41% of those detained at the 460-bed facility. He proposed negotiating increased per diem rates "to ensure cost recovery" and restructuring practices for money saving in the long-term. Privatization plans don't appear in the memo, but cutting jail personnel costs is deemed essential.

In the meantime, the city seeks to make more money off inmates. "In order to recover the net cost to the City of $18.5 million, the per diem inmate charge would need to increase to $110," wrote Cavazos. The suggestion applied to both ICE and U.S. Marshall prisoner contracts.

Such bullishness on getting undocumented folks in city jail comes as the TRUST Act became law in California at the start of the new year. It compels local law enforcement agencies like the Santa Ana Police Department to ignore ICE detainer requests for arrested undocumented immigrants for protected low-level offenses. "Detainers are only honored if [AB4] stipulations are met," Matulin says. "The ICE contract isn't connected to local detainer activities," she adds. No statistics could be given on how many requests so far this year have translated into city jail detentions.

Budgeting the bottom line on the backs of broken families strikes the OC May Coalition as shameful. "It's sad because most of the people in Santa Ana either know someone who is undocumented or are themselves undocumented," Cisneros says. The Anaheim resident is President of the Fullerton DREAM Team and comes from a mixed-status family herself. "They're supposed to be represented too. City officials don't take them into account."

Since the December memo, Cavazos and Rojas traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with ICE officials and are requesting a per diem increase. After the May Day demonstration, activists will be sounding the call inside council chambers to end, not mend the ICE contract.

"We're going to go to city council on Tuesday following the march," Cisneros says, "and introduce the campaign letting them know what we want!"

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz

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