Jan 29, 2014 6:11 PM by April Hansen, KSBY News
Santa Maria city leaders say the public has been misguided about a proposed site for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, facility and are trying to educate the public.
ICE wants to move its current facility from the Lompoc federal prison to the west side of Santa Maria.
The city council took the first step toward approving the move at its last meeting despite protests that drew in more than 500 people.
There is a lot of fear in the community that ICE will do sweeps for undocumented workers in the city.
City leaders say that is not the agency's mission.
"Thirty-six percent of the Santa Maria population is immigrants. Some are documented and some are not, but that is a third of our community that's generally opposed of having ICE here," said CAUSE organizer Hazel Davalos. "There is still a memory in the community when raids happened."
So some city leaders recently met with community groups to explain the purpose of ICE.
"There are a lot of urban myths that are out there," said Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon.
He says the agency's mission has changed.
"They are now under the Department of Homeland Security and their primary mission is to protect the homeland," said Haydon.
He says they check the citizenship status of felons coming out of prison to make sure they can stay in the country before they are released.
"And rather than letting them return back to the city streets to continue to enter into the type of activities that got them into jail, they deport them to their country of origin," said Haydon.
Some local neighbors say they don't want such a facility in their backyard.
"People might escape or find a way to run away and our neighborhood is pretty close to this and it's pretty scary," said Santa Maria resident Othello Abata.
Davalos says if ICE moves in, many immigrants will live in fear.
The next meeting to discuss the proposed ICE facility will be at the Santa Maria Fair Park on February 5.
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