For immigrant rights activist Hairo Cortes, the Santa Ana jail stood as a monument to oppression.
In a city with a large Latino population, elected leaders had turned it into a detention center for immigrants in the country illegally. The jail became a rallying cry for a political reform movement that eventually led the Santa Ana City Council to phase out immigrant detention at the facility, improve police accountability and spend more money on badly needed community services.
In many ways, the effort foreshadowed what is happening in Los Angeles and other cities around the country as protesters call for an end to police brutality and sweeping social reforms.
But Santa Ana offers a cautionary tale for the “defund the police” movement, one that underscores the fragile nature of such reforms even in predominantly working-class, non-white cities. What happened in the short time following activists’ victories, Cortes now says, was a sobering reality check.