Orange County ending contract to hold immigration detainees

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California county is ending its contract to house immigration detainees for federal authorities to focus on inmates’ mental health needs, officials said Wednesday.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the agency is ending its 2010 contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold roughly 900 detainees a day at two facilities.

Deputies will be moved to other areas as the county bolsters services for inmates with mental health issues and drug addiction amid a growing need, Braun said.

“We’re eliminating the ICE contract,” Braun said. “This is not in response to the political rhetoric that is out there. This is absolutely a business decision.”

The move comes after several Northern California counties ended their contracts to hold detainees for federal authorities seeking to have them deported. It is unclear what will happen to detainees at the facilities in Orange County, but California has barred local governments from signing new contacts or expanding existing ones for immigration detention.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the decision does not mean an end to detention. “Instead of being housed close to family members or local attorneys, ICE will have to depend on its national system of detention bed space to place those detainees in locations farther away,” the agency said in a statement.

In Orange County, the average number of inmates with mental health needs each day has risen more than 40 percent over three years, according to the sheriff’s department. The agency will upgrade housing modules to meet these needs and temporarily shut one of the jails used for detainees to help offset the loss of revenue from the immigration contract, the department said.

Immigrant advocates said they don’t want to see people sent to far-flung detention centers away from relatives, friends and the lawyers representing them in their bid to remain in the country.

But they welcomed an end to detention at the facilities and said they hoped the decision, along with those in Contra Costa and Sacramento counties, will lead to further change.

“The question is if this becomes a trend not just in California but throughout the country, and we’re really reducing the number of these contracts,” said Angela Chan, senior staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco. “Then I think it would have a significant impact.”

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