For the last three years, activists in Santa Ana, California have chipped away at Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s influence in their city. During a particularly violent time in the 90s, Santa Ana built a $107 million jail that has become less necessary as crime rates dropped. Saddled with debt, the city entered into a contract with ICE in 2006 to fill the beds with undocumented immigrants facing deportation. According to the OC Register, the jail receives $340,000 a month.
But along the way, a group of immigrant rights groups have ramped up efforts to resist ICE. They chained themselves together and cut off access to an intersection near the jail. They went on a hunger strike. Activists also stopped the city from signing an expansion with ICE. On December 6, the city – which has an all-Latino city council and mayor – voted to gradually end the contract with ICE, as well as reduce the number of beds available for immigrant detainees from 200 to 128, the Los Angeles Times reports. All of these actions signaled a death knell for ICE. At the end of February, ICE announced that it would no longer maintain a facility in Santa Ana, according to Fusion.
“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 spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
While it’s true that this jail’s one of the smallest ICE facilities in the LA area, this marks an important victory. Through grass-roots organizing and continued efforts, they shut ICE out of their city at a time when undocumented immigrants face increasing threats. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released two memos that laid out the sweeping immigration guidelines that will inform its actions. The DHS will widen its scope by arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants – even if they haven’t committed serious crimes. As the New York Times reports the memo calls for expediting the deportation process, hiring 10,000 new ICE agents, turning police officers into immigration agents, and building additional detention facilities.
The contract will officially come to an end in about three months. Before ICE’s announcement, the jail housed 74 immigration detainees. Immigration officials will likely move them to other ICE facilities, which means the work isn’t over for Santa Ana’s activists.
“Santa Ana is just one city, but we showed that it is possible to get US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) out of our communities,” Hairo Cortes, an organizer with Orange County Immigrant Youth United, told Fusion. “The city needs to take responsibility for engaging in a business that profited from human suffering. Now they need to do everything within their means to advocate for the release of the people in that facility.”