In a razor-thin 3-2 vote, Santa Maria's City Council cleared all local hurdles for the construction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building, slated to be built at McCoy Lane and Depot Street in the city. The proposal has been highly criticized by the immigrant community, farmers, and homeowners.
Voting to approve the facility were council members Bob Orach, Jack Boysen and Willie Green. Voting against the ICE project were Terri Zuniga and Mayor Alice Patino.
The focus for the meeting was primarily on the effect that this ICE building would have on the immigrant community. As expected, it was full of emotion and, at times, a bit heated.
Gloria Acosta was at the podium speaking on behalf of LULAC, one of the 4 entities that appealed the Planning Commission's original approval.
"Most of these families will look to relocate," said Acosta. "Many of these families do not have to stay here in Santa Maria.
Latino community members waved their hands in agreement, as concerns were voiced about the proposed ICE processing facility by the four groups that appealed approval of the project by the Santa Maria Planning Commission.
"I would hate to see working families leave," said a tearful Acosta.
Advocates for the local immigrant community insist that the project has generated widespread fear of deportation and raids on undocumented workers. ICE representatives have been adamant that will not happen, and repeated that statement again.
"Our primary function is to take custody of convicted criminal aliens that are in the custody of other law enforcement agencies," said David Marin, ICE Deputy Field Office Director.
The message didn't go over well with some of the crowd. One man even interrupted the ICE presentation to let them know how he felt.
"Get ICE out of our community! They separate families!" the man shouted. He was escorted out of the Convention Center by security.
About 90 people spoke during public comment, directing their words towards the council members that would determine if the project is built.
"When you decide this matter, take their welfare into consideration," pleaded one community member.
The meeting began at 3 p.m. Thursday and as expected, it took about 8 hours to go through the process and reach a the final vote.
The facility would be a processing center for those accused of breaking the law, according to immigration officials. Those officials stress the facility is for criminals and lawbreakers, not those who are only undocumented. The new ICE center would not keep anyone detained for long: after processing detainees would be transferred to the ICE facility in Camarillo.