When plans were announced that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was preparing for a new federal facility, there was an outcry from the local community. The Santa Maria Planning Commission made the announcement in early February 2014. Since then citizens have voiced their discontent and concerns with the idea. The new facility would take over duties of the current ICE facility at Lompoc prison.
Not long after the announcement, more than 5,000 people went to a Santa Maria Planning Commission meeting and most of the individuals were there to show their opposition to the new facility. The basis for these concerns vary, but many argue that an “ICE presence would lead to raids at the most and a culture of fear at the least, plus decreased property values and a depleted workforce.”
ICE says that these residents have nothing to be concerned about. The facility would be located near residential homes and not too far from the soon-to-be location of a new jail. ICE would lease a one-story building and the space would also contain medical offices.
ICE spokeswoman, Lori Haley, also made clear to residents that the Santa Maria facility would house only those who have been convicted of serious crimes. In addition, this facility would hold no more than 13 people and for no more than 12 hours. After their brief stay in Santa Maria, the individuals would be transported to a facility in Los Angeles.
The local Police Chief, Ralph Martin, said he is not concerned about the ICE facility having a negative effect on the city's Latino community. In fact, he feels that the facility could actually benefit Santa Maria. He noted that the immigrants in the area “are often preyed upon by felons who know that victims won't report crimes for fear of deportation.”
Meanwhile, Robert Dickerson, the one planning commissioner who voted against the idea said that the ICE building would negatively impact residents' mental health. “I wouldn't want to be living looking over my shoulder all the time,” he said.
Another issue is the fact that, at a previous hearing, the property had been rezoned back to an office-space classification. If this is the case, then how would an ICE facility fit into that category? That is a question that has yet to be answered.
Yet another concern is that many feel as though ICE has not done enough to educate or inform the residents of Santa Maria about the plans. In a recent statement from Congresswoman Lois Capps, she accuses ICE of not taking the time to consider citizens' issues or to clarify the project's history. “I've been extremely disappointed in the lack of outreach and communication from ICE regarding the proposed new facility they are seeking in Santa Maria,” she said. “It troubles me that concerned citizens may not have even known about the proposed facility had they not been paying attention to the City Council agenda. This is not the way to build productive relationships or ease the community's concerns.”There will undoubtedly be more written about this issue as plans for the facility continue to move forward - rallies are already being scheduled for future hearings.
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