Cutting off your nose to spite your face is an expression that dates back to the 12th century. It is thought to be derived from legends of pious women who disfigured themselves in order to protect their virginity. Today it has come to mean a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem. “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face” is a warning against acting in a way that would damage oneself more than address the subject of your concern.
The previous Santa Ana City Council cut off its nose, and by extension the nose of the city, by giving in to the bullying of a small group of outside agitators and refusing to comply with the federal contract with ICE which is a legal agreement in place with the city. Rather than considering the drastic implications of allowing ICE to remove inmates from the jail, the previous council provoked the cancellation of a contract that could have kept the facility operating for years to come, provided fiscal stability to the city and saved union jobs.
This contract has been in place for over 15 years. It brings in approximately $9 million in revenue to the city’s general fund and is the funding source for our jail operations as well as other community programs. The jail employs about 100 people, many of whom are longtime city employees and residents with families and the obligations we all share. Does our current council care about them?
At a recent council meeting a group of radical activists spoke out about the federal contract and closing the jail. We don’t know how many of the speakers are residents of Santa Ana, but we do know that they incite the audience to loud displays of incivility designed to intimidate other audience members as well as the council.
The core of their concerns is federal immigration policy. The City Council can do nothing about the federal government’s policies on immigration. It can do something about public safety in Santa Ana and the city employees who service the needs of the community. That is the council’s primary job.
The jail doesn’t enforce immigration laws. On the contrary, it operates as a special facility, offering treatment, care and programs for those people detained by immigration authorities. If the contract is canceled, people who are now kept in Santa Ana, near their families and support networks, and where they are treated with dignity and respect, will be sent all over the country, many to privately run jails. Private jails are in business to make money. Anything that cuts into the profit is shunned. Decent food, programs, medical care and treatment and high quality custody officers are all things that are missing in private jails. The council and the activists that motivate them are willing to forgo the advantages of the jail, a key component to public safety, to make a point about something over which they have no control. People are still going to be detained by the federal immigration authorities — just under worse conditions, and farther away from home.
The council was elected to run the city of Santa Ana. That means listening to all the stakeholders: citizens, business people, homeowners, tenants and employees — hundreds of thousands of people on any given day. The voices of 25 loud people speaking at a City Council meeting should not drown out the concerns and needs of those other thousands who live and work in Santa Ana. Let them participate in the discussion; it is their right. But, when difficult decisions must be made, bullying tactics should not take the place of a reasoned debate weighing the needs of all the stakeholders including our employees.
It is foolish to cut off the jail to spite the well-being of the community. The council should do all possible to re-engage this federal contract and honor the current lawful agreement in place.
Gerry Serrano is president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.