On January 25, 2016, we filed a federal civil rights complaint documenting Santa Ana City Jail's illegal strip searches of women. Since then, the Santa Ana City Jail has stopped detaining immigrants. Learn about our complaint that helped expose abuse at the facility and read our report on why the City of Santa Ana should close and repurpose the jail. 
Complaint Result: 

Our complaint ultimately resulted in the termination of the City of Santa Ana’s contract with ICE. Two days after the complaint was filed, Freedom for Immigrants organized with our allies to pressure officials at a City Council meeting to not expand the number of immigration detention beds at the jail. After months of advocating and educating local officials, the City became the first sanctuary city in the Orange County, California, in December 2016. By February 2017, ICE had terminated its contract with the City.

Background on Complaint:

Thirty-one transgender and cisgender women in the custody of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Santa Ana City Jail filed a civil rights complaint against the City of Santa Ana and ICE.
Freedom for Immigrants, previously known as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national organization that visits and monitors immigration detention facilities, filed the complaint on behalf of the women. We called for a federal investigation and for the City of Santa Ana to abandon a degrading strip search policy and practice in which women in immigration detention were routinely forced to remove all of their clothing and use their hands to spread apart their private parts as officers peered into them. These searches often occurred under unsanitary conditions and sometimes in full view of other people in immigration detention. On at least one occasion the strip search turned physical, when an officer patted down a women while completely naked.
The strip searches occurred after each in-person visit with an attorney, after each court hearing, and upon booking. In all of these cases, the trans women were not allowed to choose the gender of the person performing the search. No special provisions were made for women who were on their menstrual periods, which means women complainants who were on their menstrual period bled directly onto the floor. No special provisions were made for the elderly or women with chronic physical pain, such as 67-year-old Araksi Torkramadzhyan who suffered from hip dislocation.
These searches are particularly traumatizing for asylum seekers who have survived sexual assault and rape. Gloria Hernandez identifies as lesbian and was a victim of sexual assault in Honduras because of her sexual identity. She explains that she had been re-traumatized by each of the seven or eight strip searches she was forced to endure at the jail. These strip searches have resulted in her suicide attempt at the Santa Ana City Jail.
The complaint explains that Santa Ana City Jail’s strip search policy and practice directly violated ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards and the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The policy and practice also violated California Penal Code section 4030, which prohibits strip searches without reasonable suspicion that the person is concealing weapons or contraband. The strip searches also violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and may amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
Read a copy of the complaint here.


Access results from our California Public Record Act Requests:

Santa Ana City’s Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE (2015)
Santa Ana City’s Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE (2006)
Santa Ana City Jail Inmate Search Policy
2015 Santa Ana City Jail Bed Statistics & Total Income (2009 to Present)
2014 Santa Ana City Jail Bed Statistics


On February 15, 2018, we released a 72-page report on how the City of Santa Ana can repurpose its jail. The report was done in partnership with Torti Gallas + Partners, the ACLU of Southern California, and Advancement Project California. 

Rebuilding (1).jpg

The report, Rebuilding Trust: A Case Study for Closing and Repurposing Immigration Detention Facilities, investigates human and civil rights abuses at the facility and provides a basic plan for jail reuse.  It also is designed to assist any community looking to repurpose a Clinton administration-era jail.

 The Santa Ana City Jail is currently operating at a significant deficit, and in each year since at least FY15, jail-specific revenues have failed to cover the operating costs of the facility.  
The City of Santa Ana also is at risk to lose millions defending and settling claims against its jail.  

The living conditions that individuals incarcerated at the Santa Ana City Jail are forced to endure are at best deficient.  The report investigates inadequate medical care, prolonged solitary confinement, inappropriate classifications of inmates, excessive or inappropriate disciplinary actions, among other things, such as unhygienic food service that can result in the transmission of bacteria or disease.

But there is hope. Since 2011, at least 22 states have closed or announced closures for 94 state prisons and juvenile facilities.  Counties and cities that have closed their correctional facilities have eventually repurposed them in exciting new ways.  For example, facilities have been converted into museums and special events venues, a movie studio, a distillery, a reentry center, and live-work space with condominiums, office buildings, shops, and restaurants.

The report advocates first and foremost for closure of the Santa Ana City Jail.  In its place, the report explains how the City could implement a community-based reentry center.  As Santa Ana also is a sanctuary city that previously operated one of the most notorious immigration detention facilities in the country, the report also encourages the City to create a Revolving Immigration Detention Bond Fund so that any resident picked up and detained by ICE will have access to financial support to pay their immigration bond and be reunited with their family. The Bond Fund would complement the work the City has already done to fund Universal Representation.  

“The City is at a critical turning point. It can listen to its residents who are clamoring for the closure of the city jail or it can continue to operate the facility at a fiscal deficit at the expense of the community,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants and the primary author of the report.

“We hope this privately-funded report will help City leaders make an informed decision.”