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Immigration and Customs Enforcement Shows Off Santa Maria Facility

Most people processed at West Century Street office have been recently released inmates from state, federal prisons

David Marin, deputy field office director for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, talks about the new Santa Maria facility as recently released state prison inmate Celso Leon-Garcia sits in a holding cell.
David Marin, deputy field office director for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, talks about the new Santa Maria facility as recently released state prison inmate Celso Leon-Garcia sits in a holding cell. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Inside a bright white holding cell in Santa Maria, two recently released state prison inmates awaited the next leg of their return back to their home countries.

The two men sat with legs shackled in the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office on West Century Street in Santa Maria, after being picked up from the California Men’s Colony where both had completed their sentences. 

Their stay in Santa Maria didn't last long. Within hours, both men were to be transported south to see an immigration judge regarding their deportation.

ICE officials showed off the new facility Tuesday to local media, approximately four months after quietly beginning operations in the structure that prompted a loud outcry from people opposed to the project during Santa Maria Planning Commission and City Council meetings in 2014.

“This is not a detention center,” said David Marin, deputy field officer for ICE Enforcement Removal Operations. “It’s office space that just has a processing area. There’s no barbed wire. If you look at the building, it really doesn’t look like anything more than a regular office building that could be anywhere here in Santa Maria.”

Ironically, those who objected to the facility expressed concerns about less-than-attractive fencing. While the ICE facility sits inside decorative black fence with the top curved outward for security purposes, several neighboring businesses — including an alleged porn distribution operation — are enclosed by chain link fences with barbed wire.

Eleven people work in the 10,000-square-foot building that replaced 40-year-old manufactured trailers that had been located on the grounds of the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex.

Conditions in those trailers were so bad that unusable doors had to be removed after the buildings settled and the floors had holes, ICE officials said.

The new Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility sits on West Century Street in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
The new Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility sits on West Century Street in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“For our officers, this is a much better place to work,” Marin said, adding they no longer have to deal with the hassle of working inside a federal prison.

More than 75 percent of those handled by the ICE office are recently released inmates from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution, the U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc, and the San Luis Obispo County Jail. 

“That’s kind of what the primary function of this office is — to take custody of those criminal aliens that are incarcerated within the local community … ” Marin said.

Releases from the Santa Barbara County Jail are handled by ICE staff from Camarillo, but representatives said they expect the Santa Maria office will handle the new North County Jail when it opens in two years. 

The former inmates inhabiting the holding areas Tuesday were a gang member from Cuba who declined to be identified and Mexico resident Celso Leon-Garcia, who served 30 years for a second-degree murder conviction involving a fatal shooting in the Fresno County community of Parlier.

Both were picked up once they fulfilled sentences.

Others processed through the facility are selected under the targeted enforcement operations because of prior criminal activity, such as drunken driving or domestic violence, ICE officials said. 

Tips for those targeted by ICE come from a variety of sources — the telephone tip line, ICE website, law enforcement agencies, neighbors or, in one instance, a wife reporting her husband’s girlfriend.

Not all the detainees are from Mexico. Since ICE deals with prison inmates, they handle people from multiple nations including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and more.

While the new facility in Santa Maria sparked fears of sweeps to deport large numbers of immigrants, Marin stressed ICE doesn’t conduct those operations. Still, sightings of ICE officers spark questions, such why one was seen at Starbucks. 

“Our officers like to drink coffee also,” Marin said. “They’re part of this community. Every single one of them lives …in this community so they’re going to be out shopping, they’re going to be out at a Starbucks.

"If it happens to be during work hours, and they happen to have their uniform on, it’s not because they’re doing a raid or they’re checking anybody’s immigration status, they’re going to get lunch.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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